From Music Notes to Math – (LS-TR-114)

The Mathematics of music

In this learning scenario, we aimed to establish an interdisciplinary link between mathematics and music. In other words, we address the mathematics of music. We explain Mathematical topics such as fractions, patterns and basic process in connection with musical concepts such as harmony and balance. For instance, while we speak of quarters and eight notes in musical language, these are represented as fractions of 1/4 and 1/8 in mathematics. These are all mathematical divisions of time.

The topics can be adapted to the age by introducing different musical concepts. For instance, we can explain sound frequency, and that octaves of note are in harmony due to one of them having two times the frequency of the other. Harmony is also used in chords, and the effect of playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th of a major scale can be demonstrated. We can also show examples of typical time signatures from local music, e.g. odd rhythm signatures such as the 9/8, and why it feels off-beat.

A first interdisciplinary experience

It was a very exciting experience for us and the students to make connections between different lessons. We aimed to develop students’ self-confidence, vision, and ability to make cross-curricular connections. We used gamification methods such as Kahoot for providing fun and maintaining permanent learning.

Musical notes over the centuries

We implemented the learning scenario in a class of 10-year-old students in primary school. They learned that music is enjoyable in harmony with mathematics. With the help of Europeana, we were able to introduce a historical aspect, because students learnt in the Europeana documents that note symbols have changed over the centuries. This course offers a good opportunity for a rich use of Europeana resources.

Students listened to music that they have never heard until now and accessed many musical images using Europeana. They also learned that they could access many books and photos related to mathematics subjects. However, they have also understood that the data in the digital environment is protected and may contain copyright.

For my students, this was also a good setting to use tablets and computers in class, making it a fun and enjoyable learning experience.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 – The featured image used to illustrate this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution. It can be found in the Wellcome collection. The original image has been resized and labelled to illustrate this article. 

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