“A Mathemusician’s Journey” – A Talk by Dr. Sudeshna Basu

Math and music are usually organized into two separate categories, without obvious overlap. It tends to be that people are good at math and science or art and music, as if the two elements could not be placed together logically. In actuality, math and music are indeed related and we commonly use numbers and math to describe and teach music.


The Mathematics Society of St. Stephen’s College wrapped up its string of events for the present academic session with a talk by Dr. Sudeshna Basu named “A Mathemusician’s Journey”.

Mathemusicians journey


Dr. Sudeshna Basu grew up in Kolkata, India. She started her early musical training under the tutelage of famous Hindustani classical vocalist Smt. Meera Bandyopadhyay of Patiala gharana. After a rigorous training in classical music Dr. Basu started taking Rabindrasangeet lessons under the maestro Sri Ashoketaru Bandyopadhyay.Recently, she started taking lessons on Dhurpad from the famous Gundecha Brothers. She obtained her Ph. D from Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. She then went to United States to pursue her academic goals. After teaching at universities in the US, she quit her full time job to dedicate herself whole heartedly to music. She now divides her time between mathematics and music.


Her talk mainly focused on the sub-conscious usage of mathematics in Indian Classical music. Without the boundaries of rhythmic structure – a fundamental equal and regular arrangement of pulse repetition, accent, phrase and duration – music would not be possible.


She illustrated the above with the example of a tihai, which is a rhythmic variation that marks the end of a melody or rhythmic composition, creating a transition to another section of the music. The basic internal format of the tihai is 3 equal repetitions of a rhythmic pattern), interspersed with 2 (usually) equal rests.

For example,

If the phrase is 16 beats long,
like in the rhythmic cycle called Teental,
the outline of a Anagat Tihai might look like 4 2 4 2 4.

Here, each “4” represents a rhythmic pattern that is 4 beats long,
and each “2” represents a rest that is 2 beats long.
(4+2+4+2+4 = 6+6+4 = 12+4 = 16).The start of the next phrase fall exactly on the downbeat.

The mathematician/musician spoke about the influence of music in the lives of various mathematicians in the past including that of Albert Einstein.

He once said that had he not been a scientist, he would have been a musician. “Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” he declared. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music…I get most joy in life out of music.”


Being a mathematician as well as a musician both Tagore and Einstein had great influence on her. Dr. Basu ended the talk with a slideshow of photographs from her visit to Einstein’s home in Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, United States, which included those of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s visit to Einstein’s home in 1930.


To sum it up, the talk was a great experience for math and music enthusiasts.

Dr. Sudeshna Basu’s credit lies in how she juxtaposes her life of a Mathematics teacher at a university in the US and her passion for singing Tagore songs.

~Aparna Misra






One thought on ““A Mathemusician’s Journey” – A Talk by Dr. Sudeshna Basu

  1. Very nicely written just one correction, the photographs were actually taken at einstein’s home in Caputh and not Princeton .
    Wonderful experince

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