Rhythm Lessons Show The Link Between Music And Math

Educators can use music lessons that show students how to learn about rhythm in a fun and exciting way.

By Barbara Moseley

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Most teachers know that music and math are related, but how do we introduce this concept to young students.  It doesn't need to be a dry topic. You can make it an interesting experience, like the thrill you feel riding down the road, with the top of your car down, and the tunes blasting. Of course, you may get a few eye rolls when you play music, and ask your students, "Can you believe you are listening to math?". But don't be discouraged.

Musical structure creates pleasure for the listener. It is off-putting when a musician misses a beat, or does not end on the note that resolves the song. We rarely hear this blatant ignorance of structure, so when we hear it, even if we don't know what it's called, we cringe. In fact, this is the perfect way to demonstrate what seems so obvious to our ears. If you can bring a musician into the classroom to demonstrate these concepts, students will enjoy picking out the mistakes, and discussing how uncomfortable it makes them feel.

Music scholars have applied set theory, abstract algebra, number theory, physics, the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci Sequence, and many other ideas, to understanding and analyzing scales and compositions and frequency. Must we go this far?  Yes, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  But to most, as in nature, art, and music, tapping in to perfection is intuitive to the heart and soul, with no need for further proof.

So, getting back to how to relate this to our students, start with the basics.  Start out with a song they enjoy that has a basic 4/4 beat, like "London Bridge". Then, listen to some examples, and see if they can count it out.  If this goes well, try clapping only on the first beat, then the second, third and fourth.  Did you notice that the beat of one and three are easier to feel versus two and four?  Why?  Start your research.  The answer may boggle your mind, and it goes on and on.  By delving into the mystery of math and music through the lesson plans that follow you can get your students to start asking questions, and possibly doing their own research.

Music Lesson Plans:

Music & Emotions Unit: This lesson has students listen to classical music, and create artwork based on what the music made them feel.

I Am Golden:This lesson introduces patterns, the Fibonacci Sequence, and the Golden Ratio. It also tells students the many places these occur.

Jazz and Math: The Fibonacci Keyboard:This lesson will explore various relationships between music and the Fibonacci Sequence.

Teaching Fractions & Ratios:This lesson uses M&M candy to demonstrate fractions.

Jazz and Math: The Beat Goes On: This lesson will have students collect data through listening to music, using ratios, and demonstrating an understanding of rhythm and tempo.

Barbara Moseley