60-Second Science

Rhythm and Music Help Math Students

Kids who learned fractions through a music-based curriculum outperformed peers in traditional math classes. Sophie Bushwick reports

Stuck on a tricky math problem? Start clapping. Grade school kids who learned about fractions through a rhythm-and-music-based curriculum outperformed their peers in traditional math classes. The work is in Educational Studies in Mathematics. [Susan Joan Courey et al., "Academic music: music instruction to engage third-grade students in learning basic fraction concepts"]

Fractions let you divide up a measure of music into notes of varying length. For example, one four-beat measure could contain a single whole note held for all four beats, two half notes of two beats apiece, four quarter notes of a beat each, and so on. In the Academic Music program, based on the Kodaly method of musical education, students clap, drum and chant to memorize the lengths of musical notes—then solve problems in which fractional notes must add up to a full measure of music.

Sixty-seven students participated in the study. Half did math problems using the Academic Music system. And after six weeks, the students in the music program averaged 50 percent higher on tests than did the kids in regular math class. Fractions create a solid foundation for further math education—so mastering them is music to educators’ ears.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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