How I Combined Music and Mathematics in My Elementary Classroom

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Learning can be difficult for some students. Research has found that music can help prepare students for the day's lessons by energizing them and stimulating the brain. Incorporating music into math can change the dynamic of mathematics making it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Music + Math Equals Fun

Math can be a difficult subject for some students. I remember struggling with long division and multiplication when I was in school. Some students just click with mathematics while others need extra assistance. That's why I chose to incorporate music into my math lessons. Combining the two created a more relaxed math environment for my elementary students and made math time something to look forward to. Here's how it worked.

Set Concepts to Song

First, I chose one of the most basic ways to incorporate music into math. What was it? It was teaching my students basic math applications to the tune of their favorite songs. Music can help trigger the memory, as well as cause students to engage more in learning and remain focused during the lesson. Not to mention, once students get a song stuck in their head, they will repeat it over and over.

Memorization is key in music and in math. If you take the melody and add the mathematics rule then you have a student singing a math rule over and over until it's instilled in their brain and recalled when working out math problems. If you're not a musician or musically talented yourself, you can always refer to an online collection of songs for math and other subjects, like SongsForTeaching.com.

Playing the piano

Teaching Practical Concepts with Instruments

When you think about it, simple songs children learn while growing up often contain a lot of built-in mathematics concepts. Scholastic, a leading publisher of educational materials, points out in their article ''The Math in Music and Movement'' that songs like ''This Old Man'' can teach students counting, matching and comparing, and patterning and sequencing. If you're singing the song in your head now, then you know exactly what they mean. The song involves repetition, counting with each verse, fast and slow rhythms, and more. These basic concepts in music are definitely adaptable for a basic lesson in math and that's where I started.

Introduce the Music

The day I pulled out my portable keyboard and announced to my class that we were going to start that math lesson, there were some odd expressions on many small faces. I proceeded to play a few songs that I learned in my piano lesson days. The kids were thrilled to discover I could play. I then played a few of their favorites, including ''Old MacDonald'' and ''Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.''

Bring out the Instruments

After introducing some tunes, I pulled out a collection of kid-sized instruments and passed them around. Students could choose one instrument from a variety that included rhythm sticks, triangles, tambourines, and handheld tom-tom drums. I collected these from the music department at the school. There's also a wide variety of small instruments for children available online. If you're not able to use instruments like these, simply rely on your voice and hand clapping. After picking instruments I explained to the students what each one was and how to use it. I then gave them time to experiment and play with their chosen instrument before turning their attention back to the day's math lesson.

Kids and instruments

Present the Lesson

For my first lesson, I followed the examples from Scholastic and began with ''Musical Matching.'' I played one key on the keyboard and explained to the class that I was playing one note or one beat. I asked them to play one beat with their instrument by hitting it once. Instead of them all playing at the same time, I called for each group to play together. Sticks went first, then triangles, and so on. Next, I played a note twice on the keyboard and asked the students to match it by playing their instrument the same number of times.

We matched the number of beats several times before moving on to match the pace of the beats, which is what Scholastic referred to as ''Making Comparisons.'' For this, I played the same note three times slowly and asked each section of instruments to match the pace. I then played a note extremely fast five times in a row and again asked students to match the number of beats and pace. After matching the pace, we matched the dynamic of sound. I played softly and they played softly. I played a soft note followed by a loud note and then they did the same.

Additional Ways to Teach Math through Music

Over the course of the year, we moved on to more complex lessons that involved learning basic components of music, such as quarter, half, and whole notes. The quarter note means one beat, the half note means two beats, and the whole note means four beats. I drew a series of notes on the whiteboard and had the children play their instruments one time when I pointed to the quarter note, two times for the half note, and four times for the whole note. Students were then given an opportunity to use their own sheet of paper and draw out a sequence of notes in whatever order they wanted. They then switched papers with a neighbor and played the beats of the notes as written.

The concepts can be as simple or as complex as you need to correlate with the math lesson. For instance, learning serial order for numbers can be applied to music by playing an ascending and descending scale on the keyboard. The pitch goes up with each new note or the pitch goes down with each new note. It's a great exercise for serial order learning.

Math student

Music in the Classroom

Music can help teachers spruce up their day to day curriculum in multiple ways. You can learn more about music and academics by reading the online course Using Music in the Classroom from Study.com.

By Amanda Johnson
May 2017
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