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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

Bringing music into the mathematics classroom

Mathematics can be a tricky subject to teach, particularly as the level of mathematics gets increasingly difficult, maybe music can help us with this. There are many possible areas where music might be able to assist us with teaching students mathematics, the first and likely most obvious is using focus music to support students with rote practice, problem solving and deep independent learning. Classical music has been the obvious choice for this activity and has been used plenty in the past. I sometimes use this or forest noises which is a soothing background noise to support students when they know what they need to do and simply need to get to work, it does seem to help them. Yet, this is just the beginning of the connections between mathematics and music, this idea only scratches the surface.



Another way we could bring a little more joy and fun into mathematics learning is either getting students to make a song about a particular mathematics topic and remixing the lyrics (ie: making a mathematics cover). Making a cover song on a particular mathematics has become even easier with AI which can support this endeavour for both students and teachers.


Here’s simply the first attempt at this using ChatGPT to make a song about linear graphs to the tune of All star by Smashmouth. [Yes, the below was made using AI, but only as a demonstration. I don’t write my blog posts with AI - It is all authentically me writing these blog posts].


(Verse 1)

Well, the graphs keep comin', and they don't stop comin'

Plotting lines in math class, man, ain't it somethin'?

They're a representation of the world, a sight to see,

In the realm of equations and geometry.


So much to graph, so much to know,

With gradients found from the points below,

You'll never learn if you don't give it a go,

You'll never shine if you don't let your math flow.


(Chorus)

Hey now, you're a math star, find the gradient, let's play,

Hey now, you're a math star, with the difference, show the way,

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


(Verse 2)

It's a cool place, and they say it gets colder,

You're bundled up now, but just wait till you get older,

But the graphers beg to differ, judging by the line,

The gradient we find, with the points aligned.


The math we plot is getting pretty bold,

With gradients found, we'll conquer what we're told,

You'll never learn if you don't give it a go,

You'll never shine if you don't let your math flow.


(Chorus)

Hey now, you're a math star, find the gradient, let's play,

Hey now, you're a math star, with the difference, show the way,

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


(Bridge)

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


(Verse 3)

Hey now, you're a grapher, find the gradients, go on,

Hey now, you're a solver, with the difference, stay strong,

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


(Chorus)

Hey now, you're a math star, find the gradient, let's play,

Hey now, you're a math star, with the difference, show the way,

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


(Bridge)

And all those lines are gold,

Only math stars break the mold.


These preliminary ideas can link up mathematics and music in an authentic way. Yet, songs themselves provide some really great possibilities to analyse in numbers. There are so many ways you can start looking at different numbers in songs. Students could learn about Beats per minute (BPM), then they could figure out how many beats in the entire song? What about how much value the song brought when it was released? How many lyrics (ie: individual words) are there in your favourite song? What percentage of the song focusses on a specific topic? This is just an initial consideration, but there are many, many places where mathematics can connect with songs.


Do you ever find that you can’t remember where you left your keys or why you walked into a room for a moment or two? Yet, you might be able to remember quite literally thousands of song lyrics perfectly and sing along. This can be a very useful way to learn and memorise different information, through songs, mottos and different lyrics. One method I use with algebra is a rhyme I made up for my students is pirate themed - so I do a pirate accent and chant - "aarrghh - in between the number and the letter lies the buried treasure… and don’t forget it ya salt-licked seadogs". This is in reference to the fact that there is a multiply between a coefficient and a pronumeral. Ie: X marks the spot! Rather than treating it as this abstract mathematics concept, students can instead memorise it with a specific aspect. Music can do this too, having a song about abstract mathematics concepts can help with retaining and understanding them too.












There have even been studies done on this at the middle school level (link here), while I only found this source towards the end of writing this blog post, it does reinforce what I have been suggesting so far. One topic where good connections could be - and I missed earlier - is teaching fractions through music; showing how different notes can be full notes, half notes and quarter notes links to the idea of fractions with music.


Having done more research on this topic, one unexpected but fantastic way to link mathematics and music is through statistics, data, charts and analysis. There are so many different graphs, stats and data which we can use to teach students about. Types of music and their popularity over time. The data of which music genres are popular at the moment which is most / least popular from mainstream music and so much more.


In many respects bringing music and mathematics together is perhaps easiest done in the primary school or middle school environment. Yet, it is still achievable at the middle school and high school level through more advanced connections when appropriate, topics such as ratios, fractions, sin, cos, tan wave analysis and the musical connection.


In summary some ways to bring mathematics and music are the following:

  1. Playing music while students are doing their mathematics problems

  2. Rewriting popular song lyrics to help with learning different vocabulary and concepts (with or without AI)

  3. Quantities surrounding songs including percentages, beats per minute etc.

  4. Using mnemonics to memorise key mathematics learning.

  5. Using music to teach fractions.

  6. Statistical learning with music and the music industry more broadly.


I hope that some of the above might help inspire your teaching and support you with different ways to engage mathematics students.


Thanks for reading.

Cheers and stay curious


Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist

1 Comment


nikhilgriffin
Feb 19

Integrating music into the mathematics classroom opens up exciting opportunities to enhance learning and engagement. As mathematics becomes more challenging, music can serve as a powerful tool to support students in various ways. From using focus music to aid in rote practice and problem-solving to fostering deep, independent learning, the possibilities are vast. By incorporating music into mathematics instruction, educators can create dynamic and immersive learning experiences that resonate with students, making complex concepts more accessible and enjoyable to explore. It is also important to study music marketing, for example, how to promote on soundcloud your own songs.


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