Unless you attended The School of Rock with Jack Black or were an East High School Wildcat from High School Musical, you probably didn’t give music more than a passing thought during your educational experience. Despite the valiant efforts of music teachers across the country who brave the sounds of off-key recorders and clashing symbols that are always just half a beat too late, music isn’t a major focus in U.S. high schools.
But perhaps it should be.
Research has shown again and again that children who are involved in music expand their skills in many other areas, including mathematics. From basic concepts to complex abstract thinking, playing instruments, reading music, and even dancing can affect a child’s mathematical comprehension skills.
Music and Numbers
For example, if you had to name the simplest aspect of both doing math and making music, you would likely find the same answer: counting! Whether you are lining up manipulatives or keeping a beat, the skill being practiced is counting whole numbers. As kids get an understanding of musical notes, they are also having the concept of fractions reinforced (or possibly even introduced for the first time if they haven’t encountered fractions in the classroom yet). Each subject bolsters and strengthens the other.
Music and Measurement
Again, you can draw see relationships between math and music when you think about measurement. Just as we use words like “high” and “low” to describe size and placement of an object, we also use them to describe pitch. Musical notes travel up and down on the staff to represent the concept of the sound just as points on a graph travel up and down to represent completely different concepts.
Music and Memorization
Music lends itself to memorization in a completely different way than math does. Compare how you were able to recall the words of your favorite song after hearing it just a few times to the struggle that came from learning multiplication tables by rote. In addition to expanding children’s cognitive abilities by simply using the brain in new ways, teachers can be much more blatant about their use of music as a memorization tool by putting concepts, formulas, and rules into musical form. There’s more than one person of a certain age who learned to count by threes thanks to a certain School House Rocks song!
Advantages of Music for Learning Math
While there are some kids who absolutely love math, smiling enthusiasm isn’t usually what the teacher gets when it’s time to pull out the textbook. Turn on the radio, on the other hand, and the story is different. Most kids love music, and by increasing their exposure to it, you can also improve their mathematical abilities.