“Make Music: Do Math” ECMMA 2011

ECMMA Southeast Regional Conference

Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN

Musical experiences in early childhood pave mental pathways for other kinds of spatial-temporal learning, like numeracy. As researchers study the correlation between practicing music and improved math abilities, independent math and music programs have also made headlines. Inside classrooms, music activities used regularly during circle times hold great potential for developing young children’s mathematical understanding.

Both the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics suggest that young children begin learning math naturally through informal, hands-on experiences. From birth, children are exposed to natural, steady beats—patting and rocking—which serve as the foundation for early numeracy skills, such as one-to-one correspondence. Before children begin learning time signatures and measuring beats, they can match claps and movements to words in songs and chants.

“This Old Man” and “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” are familiar songs that incorporate counting. The lyrics and melody both rely on predictable patterns. When children make music, they have the opportunity to explore the measurable quantities of tempo, pitch, and volume. Children can play with opposite pairs like fast and slow, high and low, loud and quiet. Learning rhythm is rich with patterns, fractions, and equality concepts, which are key as children begin using more symbolic notation in both music and mathematics.

Imagine how a simple xylophone could be used to help children transition from informally learning about math concepts to using music as a tool to explicitly learn numeracy skills. By labeling the xylophone’s keys with numbers, teachers can create musical number lines and guide children to connect their familiarity with changes in pitch to comparing greater and lesser numbers. They could teach addition by counting up and subtraction by counting down, letting children hear and play the rising and falling notes. Teachers could lay the foundation for multiplication by showing children how skip counting actually sounds.

While connecting formal and informal learning experiences to developmental standards, teachers can have confidence in the powerful role that making music plays in preparing children for doing math successfully.

Vol. 6 No. 4 – Fall 2011 – Perspectives, p. 26

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