THE MATH IN MUSIC - DuPage Children's Museum

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March 3, 2016

Walk through the Museum on any given day, and you will – without fail – encounter little ones in all exhibit areas using everything from glow rods to unit blocks to experiment with sound. Young children are naturally drawn to things that are or can be musical. If you dig into the research on music and brain development, you will find that this natural inclination runs much deeper than pure enjoyment of making noise.

Our bodies naturally respond to music. Think about it – even if you don’t consider yourself to be particularly musical or rhythmic – I’m guessing there are occasions when you find yourself involuntarily bobbing your head or tapping your toes to a beat. What you are responding to is known as steady beat: sound which is repetitive, evenly spaced, and very mathematical. The act of clapping to a steady beat supports the development of one-to-one correspondence. Elements of music such as steady beat, rhythm, melody, and tempo all contain mathematical principles including sequencing, patterns, counting, and one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is a fundamental preschool math skill. The ability to recognize the number “ten,” and being able to count out “ten” items are two separate skills. Linking objects with numbers enables a child to count with understanding. Mastering one-to-one correspondence is essential for organized, meaningful counting. This leads to an eventual ability to perform higher-level calculations. Research suggests that math and music are related in the brain from early in life, and, correspondingly, that music education in early childhood plays an important role in the development of foundational mathematical skills. The link between active music learning and growth in spatial-temporal reasoning is well-established through scientific research. In fact, the National Institute on Early Childhood Development and Education states it simply, “Listening to and making music form strong connections in the brain. These are the same connections that are used to solve math problems,” (Dodge & Heroman, 1999).

Music is made up of patterns that can be simple or complex depending on the activity. The work of Zentner and Eerola (2010) has suggested that infants and toddlers have an innate capacity to see patterns as well as hear them in music. Reinforcing this capacity by using music to teach patterns in the early years may in fact benefit a child’s cognitive abilities later in life by building foundational math skills. The concept of patterns is fundamental to early math. Opportunities to create and experiment with patterns as a means of developing and strengthening this skill can be seen and explored throughout the Museum.

Here’s something you can try at home – For children two years old and under, try clapping a steady beat while singing a familiar song or nursery rhyme. Remember repetition is key in learning! For children two years and older, sing a song such as five green and speckled frogs. Make sure you clap as you count each frog at the end of each verse.

Upcoming opportunities at DCM to experience the mathematics in beat and rhythm – The Chicago Sinfonietta will be providing us with a full weekend of rhythms, beats, art, and fun! Visit the Museum March 4-6 to take a spin on Chicago artist Dave Ford’s amazing Swing Set Drum Kit and make your own percussion instrument. On Sunday join us for the West-African Drumming trio featuring Chicago Sinfonietta’s principal percussionist and Education/Outreach Program Director Jeff Handley who will get you dancing, singing, and playing along!

As always, I love to hear from you! What are your experiences with math and music? Post a comment here, on Facebook, or Twitter.