Preston Dunton: Science meets music

Ever wondered how music and STEM are interconnected? Preston Dunton thinks about that every time he takes out his drumsticks.

Preston Dunton conductingDunton is a third-year computer science major. He is also double-minoring in statistics and mathematics, and is an active drummer in the Colorado State University Marching Band.

“A lot of what we talk about with drums is physics-based,” he said. “We’ll actually talk about the drumstick and the exact way to hit certain drum heads.”

Dunton focuses on these tiny micro-adjustments and physics concepts to perfect each drum stroke, creating the best sound possible. His interest in science influences and improves his musical ability every day.

“Drum heads have different tensions and will throw back the sticks with a certain amount of force,” said Dunton. “We talk a lot about the height and velocity of the stick when you begin your stroke. All of these things must work together if you want to get really good at drumming.”

Dunton has been playing the drums for about 10 years, and developed an interest in the STEM fields during high school. Since then the two passions have grown in tandem, each informing the other.

In addition to playing on the drum line, Dunton served as a drum major, or conductor, in the marching band this past year.

“As a drum major, Preston always takes the time to carefully read scores or any music that we are given so that he is prepared for rehearsals,” said Kathryn Kennedy, a 2020 drum major. “His attention to detail in his work as a computer science major definitely spills over into his musicianship.”

Asa Ben-Hur, a professor in the Department of Computer Science, agreed. “Creative people like Preston tend to have a wide range interests that nourish their creative expression.”

Finding community

Dunton grew up in Broomfield, Colorado and went to Legacy High School, which is known for its excellent music program.

“CSU pushes a higher level than the high school levels,” said Dunton, “but I also just have more fun in the band here.”

Dunton recommends the band to all incoming students, and specifically mentioned its merit to STEM majors. Eighty percent of the students in the band aren’t music majors.

Dunton, center, with friends from the CSU Marching Band.

“There’s actually a good representation of science majors, which people don’t normally expect,” he said. “We have a really strong community. You can always find someone from where you’re from, or someone in your same major. It’s easy to find little connections like that, especially in the drum line. It’s quite amazing how tight-knit it can be.”

“My roommate right over there?” he said, gesturing behind him. “I met him in marching band.”

It’s estimated that a third of students at CSU have some musical history, but many don’t pursue it.

“That’s thousands of students on campus who don’t play music anymore,” Dunton said, adding that he thinks there’s a big opportunity for students to pursue music alongside their studies, jobs, and extracurriculars.

Dunton has succeeded in finding a community amongst the band members, but has also been key to building that community as well.

“Preston is incredibly positive and always encourages everyone around him,” said Kennedy. “The energy he brings to the marching band is so impactful, especially in a year like this one. A great leader is humble, supportive, and passionate about what they are doing. This is exactly who Preston is for the CSU Marching Band.”

Making sound career choices

In the future, Dunton hopes to weave together his passion for music and computer science into a sound career. He is concentrating on artificial intelligence, and hopes to work with Spotify as a part of their analytics team.

He has also researched how artificial intelligence is relevant to the finance world. Math and statistics are used to analyze previous data from the stock market and generate models to forecast approximately where a stock will go. AI algorithms can then act upon those models and make millions of trades a day.

“AI is starting to branch out in the business world because people are starting to apply it to lots of different types of problems,” he said.

Dunton is very happy with his experience in the Department of Computer Science at CSU, and feels prepared to move out into the competitive world of AI work after graduating.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning with the other computer science students. It’s more diverse than I expected it to be,” he said. “It’s exciting to be here now, but I’d be really excited to see what it looks like it five years. There’re new concentrations, and Craig Partridge has rolled out plans to enroll more women. I swear I get an email for a new class every week; it’s been really cool to see.”

With a three-year legacy of music, community and research behind him at CSU, there is much for Dunton to look forward to.

“Preston has already made such a positive and lasting impact at CSU,” said Kennedy, “and I know he will continue to build on that until he graduates. Preston will be incredibly successful at whatever he chooses to do after his time at CSU.”

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