Posts tagged #music

Music & Math Activities to try at Home

Music is one of the first ways children experience math. Without thinking, our bodies react to music. When we hear music, we rock our babies, clap along, and even look toward the source of the sound. These responses are reactions to musical elements such as steady beat, rhythm, and melody, all of which reflect mathematical concepts. Even the youngest of children can respond to music and the mathematical principles behind it. Here are three musical elements that relate to math and some suggested activity ideas from the National Association for the Education of Young Children to try at home.


Steady Beat

What it is: Steady beat is what you respond to when you hear music and start tapping your toe. The steady beat is repetitive and evenly spaced. Listen to “Old MacDonald,” “Bingo,” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and you will hear the steady beat.

How it relates to mathematics: Emphasizing the steady beat by clapping or moving to the music supports children’s development of one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is matching up one thing with something else, such as one clap for each syllable. Clapping to the steady beat also is a way to emphasize the math concept of “more.” Through music, toddlers can show they understand what “more” means even when they do not yet understand numbers. For example, if you clap once and then ask, “Can you clap more than I clapped?” a toddler will most likely clap more than once.

Activities to try: While singing a song, emphasize the words that fall on the beat by stomping or clapping on each beat. You can even have children stomp or clap harder on the downbeat (the most accented note in each measure). There is no wrong way to do this, so feel free to experiment.

To work on one-to-one correspondence, try having your child repeat a basic clapping sequence. Ask, “Can you clap as many times as I do?” As your child gets better at this, you can add rhythm to your clapping. You could also play a drum or even sing instead of clapping.

Songs that build on themselves, such as “There Once Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) help children grasp the idea of “more.” After each verse or every few verses you can ask, “What’s next?” or “Should we sing more?” Songs that invite children to join in with each verse also promote this concept.


What it is: Rhythm is similar to but different from the steady beat. A song’s rhythm varies, while the steady beat is constant.

How it relates to mathematics: Rhythm helps children learn to recognize one-to-one correspondence and to identify and predict distinct patterns. Being able to recognize and anticipate rhythmic patterns helps children remember or predict the words to a song or a rhythmic story.

Activities to try:  Even newborns can learn about rhythm as their parents sing lullabies to them. Rock with your child while you sing, and pat gently on your child’s back so that he can simultaneously hear and feel the patterns in the music. If the words themselves make a pattern, your child can also see a pattern in your mouth movements. Here is one example of a song you could sing:

(Sung to “Hush, Little Baby”)

Verse 1:   Little baby, don’t you cry. Little baby, don’t you cry.

Pattern:           A               B                     A              B

Verse 2:  Mama loves you don’t you cry. Mama loves you don’t you cry.

Pattern:           C                     B                      C                     B

Invite toddlers and preschoolers to repeat, predict, and/or extend rhythmic patterns. For example, sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” with your toddler. Stop after “With a moo moo here,” and wait for your child to repeat the phrase or extend the pattern of the song by adding “and a moo moo there.’”  



What it is: The movement from one note to another is the melody of the song, or in other words, the tune. Consider the familiar song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” focusing on the repetitive pattern “E-I-E-I-O.” You may notice that the first E and I are repeated on a higher note, the next E and I are repeated on a lower note, and the O is sung on an even a lower note. This is the song’s melody.

How it relates to mathematics: Children can use melodies to recognize patterns, such as how notes are repeated within a song.

Activities to try: Offer instruments like a xylophone (or piano, if you have one in your home), shaker, drum, or even a pot and a wooden spoon to play a song. Ask your child to play her instrument at a specific note of a simple song (such as on “star” of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) as you play the rest.

Dr. Eugene Geist is an associate professor in The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education and Human Services at Ohio University.  Dr. Geist teaches in the Early Childhood Education program, the Curriculum and Instruction graduate program and the Teacher Education Honors Program. His areas of expertise include child development, constructivism, and the development of mathematical knowledge in young children. 

1Bonny, J.W., & S.F. Lourenco. 2013. “The Approximate Number System and Its Relation to Early Math Achievement: Evidence From the Preschool Years.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 114 (3): 375–88.

Posted on September 12, 2018 .

Math & Music: Patterns of Mathematics

As a former math teacher, I am fascinated by the many patterns of mathematics.  In fact, one of my favorite topics to teach was the Fibonacci sequence*.  It is amazing how many different places you can find numbers from that sequence in nature, art, geometry, architecture, and even music.  It isn’t surprising that researchers have found a strong link between mathematics and music.   In my experience, I found that the best math students were often very competent musicians.

That leads me to wonder if intentionally exposing children to music at an early age may help create more confident and competent mathematicians.  The research seems to support that music can, at the very least, help children better understand and remember some emergent mathematical concepts.  There are three related but different ways of using music to encourage development of math skills in young children.

First, we all remember singing songs as small children that helped us learn concepts:  the Hokey Pokey, Old MacDonald, etc.  Studies have shown these musical mnemonics can be a very powerful learning tool for any subject.  Once words are set to music, the mind connects the two and a very powerful memory is created which can be retrieved easily.  A web site for finding a song for just about any concept and most age groups is

Second, there is evidence to show that just adding musical elements to enhance a math lesson or activity helps children pay better attention, and they are better able to recall concepts taught.   The music stimulates parts of the brain that help children form mathematical concepts.

Finally, music is inherent in all of us; we hear music, and we rock our babies, clap our hands, tap our feet.  These responses are reactions to musical elements such as steady beat, rhythm, and melody, all of which reflect mathematical concepts. 

The steady beat of a song helps children understand the important concept of one-to-one correspondence (matching up one thing with something else).  Thus, by clapping to the steady beat of a song, you are connecting the beat with your clap and reinforcing the concept of one-to-one correspondence. 

Rhythm is similar to steady beat but where steady beat is constant, rhythm varies.  Rhythm helps with one-to-one correspondence but it also helps children learn about patterns.  Even newborns learn about rhythm as parents sing lullabies to them and rock them to the rhythm of the music. 


Provide children with an instrument to shake or tap in rhythm with music.  As children get older, sing songs with them and encourage them to repeat the song or extend the pattern; for example, when singing “Old MacDonald,” stop after “With a moo moo here,” and have your child repeat the phrase or extend the pattern by adding “and a moo moo there.”   Encouraging your children to express themselves by moving differently to varying sounds or rhythms motivates the brain to categorize sounds and understand patterns within music.

We all know music has many benefits from aiding relaxation to stimulating the mind.  It is exciting to realize that music provides children with their first patterning experience and helps engage them in mathematics even when they don’t recognize the activities as mathematics. 

 *If you are not familiar with the sequence, it is formed by starting with the two numbers, 1 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two:  1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34, etc.  There are books written about it but you can also find many sites on the internet that will illustrate how often it is found in our lives.

By Mary Hubbard, Educational Advisory Board Member

Posted on March 27, 2017 .