Music Strikes a Chord with SMU Lyle Engineering Majors

Engineering majors make up nearly half of the SMU Mustang Band, proving that creative pursuits resonate with analytic minds

SMU Band
SMU Band

Leah Dugger was 13 years old when she first picked up a trumpet and fell in love with music. Now a sophomore at SMU, playing music in the Mustang Band has also become a calming counterbalance to her challenging engineering coursework. 

“The Mustang Band is the perfect excuse to have fun and put talent and effort into something bigger than myself,” said Dugger, a Mechanical Engineering major. “The band at SMU is a giant family, full of passion, support, and pride.”

Dugger first became fascinated with mechanical engineering while watching How It's Made with her grandfather, a TV documentary showing how everyday items are manufactured. “I loved the predictive analysis that engineers are capable of,” she said. “I'm especially passionate about material behavior and analyzing the mechanical properties of nearly every structure.”

She’s among a staggering number of engineering and computer science majors who march in the SMU Mustang Band – they make up nearly half of its members – and defy the stereotype that art and science are polarized fields. In fact, music has been pursued by plenty of notoriously left-brained science and mathematics scholars, including Albert Einstein. As an accomplished violinist, Einstein once said if he hadn’t been a scientist, he would have been a musician: “Life without playing music is inconceivable for me. I live my daydreams in music.”

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  Engineers SMU Band

Sophomore Leah Dugger, third from the left, with the SMU Mustang Band trumpet section.

According to SMU band members and staff, here are four ways engineering and music can be a harmonious duo that complement one another: 

There are mathematical components to music.

“The link between math and music is definitely one reason why we see so many engineering students in band,” said Tommy Tucker, Assistant Director of the SMU Mustang Band. “There are many ways mathematics is represented in music, including the frequencies of musical pitches and how you produce those pitches by altering the length of a string or by using a larger or smaller wind instrument.”

Music and engineering involve problem-solving processes and conflict-resolution skills.

“We have processes for tuning and preparing for game day just as Mechanical Engineers have processes for thermodynamic analyses,” Dugger said. “While I can't very easily apply my technical knowledge from engineering to band, the foundation of my knowledge in both areas is the same.”

Music allows engineers to express themselves in a different way.

Senior James Urech, a Computer Science major and bass drum captain, hopes to become a game designer. He’s also a music composer who says band gives him an escape and creative outlet.

“Band allows me to express myself in a way that engineering does not, and it allows me to escape from the stress of engineering and the work that goes with it,” he said. 

SMU Band

Senior James Urech, second from the left, with the SMU Mustang Band drumline

Both musicians and engineers want change for the better.

“Music is an extremely versatile tool,” Urech said. “We can use it both to mirror our emotions or to alter them. Playing and writing music gives you an immense amount of power to change people for the better. 

“Music reaches every individual person in a different way, with our own experiences, but we can also share it with others and help them to feel the way we do.”



SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.


About SMU 

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.