Implementation of ‘From Music Notes to Math’ (SOI-PT-153)

We will fraction you!

When the whole point … was to be original.

Freddy Mercury

Originality is a common feature of music and mathematics. This is the message that Burhan SEL tried to spread in his learning scenario ‘From Music Notes to Math’. I took his idea and tried to adapt it to the celebration of an event: the International Day of Mathematics, the already famous Pi Day: 3.14, celebrated on March 14.


This class took place in the school library, which is adapted for presentations and showing films. This activity involved a math teacher Cristina Lima and a music teacher Joaquim Marçal who made presentations. A third teacher – Manuela Oliveira, who is a history teacher, complimented the presentations, adding historical notes. Some other teachers participated as guests.

Classroom presentation - What is a note?
Classroom presentation - What is a note?

We applied our learning scenario to two groups: students aged 13 – 14 and students aged 10 – 11. Each group contained up to twenty students.

The notion of fraction and its relationship with musical rhythms was our main motivation. Likewise, the notion of rational number was also taken into account and there was still room for the irrational number Pi. 

For the final part of the activity, we used music and learning videos that motivated the students. Students worked with pieces of wood, representing fractions and strips and illustrating musical rhythms. European musical culture had a special place in this class, with the presentation of images from Europeana Collections, which supported all the historical notes presented.

We will fraction you: an overview

Some adaptations were made to the original learning scenario: the only technology used was the computer and the projector, necessary to present the activity sequence. Mostly we used manipulable materials such as strips with musical rhythms and wooden blocks with fractions that we associated with these rhythms. It served as a return to the origins of education. The activity took 50 minutes.

  • Firstly, we showed the video “We Will Rock You – Queen / Rockin’1000 at the Stade De France“. This was the motto of a music teacher Joaquim Marçal to introduce the notion of musical rhythm. The students were then invited to follow the musical rhythm, clapping their hands while listening to the mentioned song again.
  • Secondly, the history teacher Manuela Oliveira gave a brief presentation about the music band “Queen”, using Europeana Collections.
  • Then, the trailer of the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” was shown to the students as a way to engage them even more.
  • Further, teacher Cristina Lima introduced the relationship between musical rhythms and fractions, with the help of Brazilian videos from “Dicas da TV Escola”: Music and Fractions and Who invented the Fractions.
  • Students were provided with the definition of rational numbers. But there are also the irrational numbers, like Pi, which also has a song, Song from π!, where the pianist assigns each number (only some) of the decimal expansion of Pi to a note on a harmonic minor scale.
  • After that, the three figures from Europeana Collections and the table of note values used in the original learning scenario were the basis for proposing the activity in a small group to create musical rhythm sequences with the wood pieces corresponding to mathematical fractions. To clarify, Joaquim Marçal also showed old staves (one of them handwritten) directly related to the Europeana Collections images.
  • The activity ended with a return to the Queen’s musical theme, this time with the presentation of a Cup Song from DasSchollhaus.
Students learning music
Students learning music
Building a song in the classroom
Building a song in the classroom
This is my song
This is my song

Did everybody enjoy the math musical?

The teachers involved loved the activity, which translated into multidisciplinary work, having a great pedagogical value. The students also like the activity very much and it is proven not only by the great students engagement but also by their feedback, received after the activity:

It was a lot of fun!

I already knew this relationship between mathematics and music, because I study music, but many of my colleagues didn’t. It was important for them!

I didn’t even like the library very much, but it’s really cool to come here after all.

Students remarks

Our tip

The main point: be original! This learning scenario can be adapted to different events you want to celebrate since there are music and maths involved.


Digital cultural heritage is in our DNA. Europeana resources are an excellent basis for work. We could also have proposed to the student’s research of more data about music, mathematics and music bands at Europeana Collections. It has a large collection of images, videos, and sounds that can complement our activity. 

We had only 50 minutes of class available with each of the two groups, and we tried to follow SEL’s original idea. But there is ample space to broaden this idea, both as classwork and as an activity of the educating community. 

Happy teachers with Europeana
Happy teachers with Europeana

As teachers, we are still often stuck in “our” classroom and “our” students. But the students are from the school and the library is a commonplace where we can share knowledge and experiences. This is what the teachers involved concluded by preparing and carrying out this fruitful activity together.

Music and Maths are in European DNA.

Our best conclusion.

Other relevant Europeana resources

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario?

Music Notes to Math by Burhan Sel

Do you want to discover more stories of implementation? Click here

The featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and belongs to the public domain.

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