Maths in Music

This task aimed to apply some of the things we’ve learned about Percentages, Data and Algebra within the context of music.  Here’s as it was given to the class.

I only wanted to do this for 2 lessons hence I chose the song and gathered the resources, even though I knew the girls could do that. The girls all love Taylor Swift and are learning to play the guitar in Music. I also knew that they’ve used all the ICT tools mentioned except for Wordle which some had Java problems with, WordItOut was a great alternative.  In fact, the girls found the most challenging part of this task is the mathematical component, i.e. finding patterns and expressing patterns using Algebra.

Note: This was not an assessment task, a mere immersion and contextualisation of maths, with some ICT integration. Not everyone submitted their work but pictures from those who did can be viewed on the class website.

Show me the maths in music!
Maths is everywhere even in music. There are patterns, rules, percentages and fractions. In this activity, we will attempt to capture some maths in music.
Work with your buddy to create a poster. We will vote on the best ones to be displayed for Open Day and uploaded to the class website. Winners will also get merits.
Posters will be judged on (1) visual appeal (2) relevant maths used and (3) completeness.

Here’s my work in progress using a different song, Love Story just to give you an idea.

Your song is also by Taylor Swift, The Best Day
Task Checklist (Lesson 1):

1. Get the lyrics of the song

2. Create a word cloud via Wordle; save as a jpg in Paint or PhotoShop. What are the most common words?

3. Have a copy of the lyrics in Word to count the number of words. Did Wordle get the percentages right?

Option 1

4. Use algebra to express the patterns and rules you see

5. Create a snapshot of your algebra rules; save as a jpg in Paint so your maths symbols look right on your poster

Option 2

4. Write 2 algebraic rules, e.g. 3x + 1, and show as a pattern in pictures

5. Save your rules and patterns as a jpg so your maths symbols look right on your poster

6. Put it all together into a poster using Publisher or PowerPoint with: (1) Word Cloud, (2) Lyrics, (3) Algebra rules, (4) a poster title, (5) 1-5 photos/images

7. Save and Upload to the Posters document library; use your first names as a filename

Task Checklist (Lesson 2):
You need to look at the Music Sheets (PDF) for this task.
  1. Tally the guitar chords used in the song. How many chords are there? Are there chord patterns?
  2. Create a Frequency Distribution Table and a Pie Chart in Excel. What is the mode?
  3. Add your pie chart to your original poster

Option 1

Save a copy of the song (mp3) to your desktop.

4. Import the song into Audacity and play with the Tempo. Create 3 mp3 versions of a 15-second grab: (1) original (2) faster (3) slower; you can choose the percentages but keep track of the numbers. What happens when you change the tempo?

5. Create a snapshot of your changed music and add to your poster. In textboxes, describe the changed music.

Delete the song from your desktop.

Option 2 (especially Music students)

4. Looking at the music sheets, find 3 – 4 mathematical patterns, e.g. Rhythm, Tempo and note values

5. Crop images and describe using both your knowledge of maths and music. Add to your poster.

For example: This bar has many notes, each one is played at 16th of a beat. Play 4 sixteenth notes or semiquavers for the time it takes to play a quarter note or crotchet. All the notes add up to 4 beats because….

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5 thoughts on “Maths in Music

  1. Dave Gale says:

    Wow. What an awesome idea.

    It’s great that you’ve linked this into your music department and also made use of their ICT skills.

    Will look to see if I can do this with one of my classes!


    • malyn says:

      Thanks Mark.

      The 2 lesson times went very well with all students engaged in the task-at-hand. It’s not so much what I’d do differently as what the kids would do differently. I could perhaps allow for more choices in music or even comparison of songs of different genres.

      More able and musically-trained students can probably show chord progression, for example. Or even, how music can be remixed with a different tempo from ballad to reggae or disco.

      Anyway, This is really just dipping into music – there’s so much more to be explored.

  2. Emma says:

    Really like these ideas, will be trying them out. I had a go with the my music case study from bowland maths, it worked really well. It was about measuring the effect that music has on your body by comparing beats per minute in the music to your heart rate. The students loved it. Maybe music is the way forward?!

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