Yesterday our boy choir students created rhythms. I did not specify a time signature, so they were able to create any rhythm they wished, as long as two eighth notes and four sixteenths were next to each other. One second grader created a 5/4 rhythm that consisted of 1 half rest, one quarter, 2 eighths, and 1 quarter note rest. He was able to recite it back to me without any problem. I was quite pleased, but I thought I would push him a bit farther and get him to start thinking about time signature concepts. Because we were not in 4/4, the answers were not obvious. He needed to do the calculations, either in his head or on paper, to figure out the answers. I was astounded and excited at the result!
I first asked him how many quarters are in this group of notes. He answered 5 fairly easily. He was clearly gifted in math. So I then asked him how many half notes in this group of notes. It took him a little bit of time, but he used the Note Knacks to figure out 2.5. He then figured out that there are 10 eighths and 20 sixteenths. We put the answers in order: 2.5, 5, 10, 20. “What is the pattern?” I asked him. He answered that 5+5=10, 10+10=20. So I then said, “2.5+2.5 must = what?”. “5” he said. “That is correct!” I exclaimed. He also knew that the next number in the series would be 40.
This is Arts Integration at its best!! Quality music instruction was not compromised in order to teach math, nor was math taught solely to serve the music curriculum. There was simply a connection made. Music is a math language, plain and simple. Why not point it out? It serves us to do so. When time signature finally does come up and we explore what that means, how much better prepared will this student be? He understands that a certain length of sound can be divided into several different ways. He will then learn not only can he choose how that length will be divided, but more importantly his choice will affect the overall feel of the piece. This is so powerful! Learning the math will ultimately serve him well in the creative process later on. What more can we ask for as music educators?