Math and Music – Is There Really a Connection?

Music and Math

It’s sometimes called the “Mozart effect,” but is there really a connection between music and mathematics? The assertions, for and against, have fueled continuing debate, and are likely to go on doing so. However, there does seem to be connections between these two seemingly non-connected subjects.

The idea was first made popular in the early 1990s. Certain studies conducted around that time had test subjects listen to a sonata by Mozart, then perform a particular spatial-temporal task.

Lego for spatial-temporal reasoning

The early studies used Lego pieces, small plastic shapes that can easily be snapped together to build up a model of an object, to enable the test subjects to create a model of something they had been visualizing. An example might be a car, house or boat, or some similar common object.

The task with Lego pieces required spatial-temporal reasoning for successful completion, and the same parts of the brain are activated when listening to music. The belief was that if you deliberately activate those parts of the brain by listening to music, then go on to do something else that requires spatial-temporal reasoning, you will do it better than otherwise, as the brain is already “in tune,” so to speak.

You may be wondering why they used Lego pieces, and not math problems, initially. It was simply because the two tasks both require spatial-temporal reasoning, and are therefore similar in that respect. Later studies made the more direct connection between music and math.

Strengthening the mental-physical connection

We tend to get better at something the more we practice it. And if we practice one particular skill, then go on to learn another that requires some or all of the same skill sets we have already practiced, we tend to be better almost immediately at the second skill. This is simple logic, and while there’s certainly more to it than that, it goes some way to explaining a connection between music and math if they both require a similar mental-physical approach.

However, it appears that it is not music, per se, that can help with math, but rather, certain important aspects of music. It seems that when musical learning emphasizes sequential skill development, and when there is a strong focus on rhythm and meter, these musical exercises can, and do, enhance math ability. This, of course, is the so-called Mozart effect.

In studies, it was noted that after several months of music education involving rhythm and pitch concentration, as opposed to a more traditional musical education, children were observed to perform significantly better at math problems that they had done before receiving music lessons. In short, the visual and spatial skills that are learned when practicing on a musical instrument, help to strengthen the mental-physical connection that is highly applicable to math problems.

Spatial-temporal reasoning and language-analytical reasoning

Reasoning can be divided into two main types: spatial-temporal reasoning, and language-analytical reasoning. A good example of spatial-temporal reasoning can be found in board games like chess where the best players can think ahead several moves to anticipate a possible outcome.

Language-analytical reasoning is used in such things as solving equations, for example. Also, judgments can be made through language-analytical reasoning, based on a simple statement that implies something without actually saying it. We analyze the statement, then extrapolate judgmental information from it that is logical, reasonable and likely.

Why term it the Mozart effect?

A study by Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky in 1993 found that the repetitive, sequential and very relaxing music found in a Mozart sonata produced a temporary enhancing effect on spatial-temporal reasoning. This was measured by giving test subjects a Stanford-Binet IQ test immediately after a prolonged listening session of the Mozart music.

It is also known that when someone attempts to solve math problems, especially with abstract algebra and calculus, they use the parts of the brain concerned with spatial-temporal reasoning. If one’s spatial-temporal reasoning skills can be enhanced, as through listening to, or performing, music, for example, then the conclusion is obvious.

The music of Mozart has been credited with many special powers. A sewage plant in Germany, for example, claims that playing Mozart’s music helps to break down the composition of waste, and they apparently play the great man’s music, loudly and constantly throughout the confines of the plant.

Zell Miller, Governor of Georgia, was so impressed by the idea that the music of Mozart could enhance math skills in children that he proposed a budget that would have given each child born inGeorgiaa recording of Mozart’s music. Sadly, his proposal was not taken up. Is there really any connection between music and mathematics? The debate continues, and will likely continue for some time to come.

How Teachers Can Use Math Game Websites to Supplement Their Teaching

Math Games for Students

Educators know that it is necessary to include a wide-range of materials in their arsenal of daily activities.  Doing the same activity day-after-day can be too repetitive which makes the activities boring and leads to lethargy in the classroom.  And one of the most exciting activities that teachers can use with their students in the math classroom is game websites.  These provide an exciting and interactive way for students to learn the skills which teachers are trying to impart to their students.  Here are just a few ways to help your students by using these websites in your lessons:

  • As remediation/response to intervention—One of the more problematic aspects of mathematics for students is that each skill builds on itself.  If a student doesn’t master one particular aspect of the course, then they can be lost as the rest of the class moves on to the next part of it.  This can be particularly difficult in the early grades when these skills will be necessary for success in future courses throughout elementary, middle and high school.  That is why teachers can use these kids online math games as remediation or interventions for students who have fallen behind.  This will give them the opportunity to practice and hone these skills after the rest of the class has moved on, without having to hold the rest of the class up.
  • As supplementary work—One of the most common ways for teachers to reinforce work that they have assigned is with homework that is commonly referred to as drill-and-practice.  These are repetitive problems that are meant to give students the ability to put their new skills into application.  Rather than have the students complete a worksheet of twenty or thirty drill questions, math game websites are a good alternative because they can give them the ability to do the same activities with the added bonus that they are having fun with the video game aspect.
  • As rewards—Not all students are created equally and many students do not work at the same pace.  This is just a given.  Math game websites, therefore, can also be used as a reward for those students who have completed the activities in the classroom ahead of the rest of their peers.  Rather than having the students twiddle their thumbs or stare at the ceiling because they are bored, these games can be assigned to them either as a supplement to reinforce skills they have learned (most kids won’t complain since they will enjoy the video games) or, for the truly advanced students, they can learn new skills on their own and move forward using the games as a guide.  Not holding students back is very important; if they can move forward then teachers should encourage this.

Video games aren’t just for the arcade or the home game systems.  Teachers should embrace this new technology as a way of supplementing their lessons and adding to the possibilities their students have in the classroom.  Doing so will encourage the students to be actively engaged and more eager to learn.


How To Tell If Your Child Is Falling Behind In Math

Cool Kids MathEveryone wants to see his or her child succeed in school.  That’s a given.  But one of the toughest things parents are faced with is how to figure out if their child is not doing as well as they should be.  Many courses, especially mathematics, build on each other so that one skill must be properly mastered as it will be used in later skills.  If a child falls behind early on, he or she could be behind for quite a while as they play catch up with his or her peers.  That’s why early identification and intervention is key when it comes to your child’s academic success.

  • Be proactive about your child’s grades.  At the beginning of the school year, every system sends home a calendar with the dates for progress reports and report cards.  Many systems also include “early release” days for parent conferences.  Put this information on your refrigerator, put it in the calendar reminders on your cellphone, write it in big, bold letters where you will see it constantly.  These grades and routine progress reports are the first step in identifying if your child is falling behind.  But they do not have to be the only step.  Many school systems now pay for online gradebooks so that parents can log-in and see what their child is working on and how they are doing on their assignments.  If this is the case in your child’s system, get into the habit of logging-in weekly to see how your child is progressing.  If they do not offer this, ask to see your child’s papers every night that they are returned.  Keep a running list of the grades so that you can tell exactly how they are doing.  One F will not destroy a child’s average.  But a pattern of F’s means that there is something wrong and you need to address the problem before the end of the grading period.
  • Talk to your child.  Any educator will tell you that one of the most frustrating parts of a parent-teacher conference is when the parent arrives expecting everything to be laid at the feet of the teacher and when the teacher asks, “Have you spoken with your child about their grades?” the answer is a timid, “No.”  Talk to your children daily about what they are learning.  If your child can’t tell you what the topic is for that week in his or her math class, look it up in the book and help him or her figure it out.  Showing them that you care is of utmost importance here.
  • Quiz your child when the opportunity arises.  You don’t have to interrogate your child, nor do you have to be a mathematical genius yourself to devise quizzes and tests to see how they are doing.  Finding online kids math games or workbooks at the teacher’s store can give you a chance to gauge their ability and see if they need help before they are too far behind.
  • Be sure to look at the data that is available.  A lot has been said about the problems of over-testing our students when it comes to standardized exams.  Many of these complaints are valid, but one area you should embrace is the abundance of data that you are given after these tests.  Many children are ranked according to the standards they are taught as “Met the Standard,” “Exceeded the Standard,” or  “Does Not Meet the Standard.”  If you see that there is a particular area that your child needs help on, this is the perfect opportunity to see that they get this help.  Many systems are now even offering diagnostic and pre-tests for these that can pinpoint areas where children are deficient so that an individualized study plan can be put together.

No one can overstate the importance of your child’s education.  That is why it is so valuable for you to make use of every tool that is available in keeping track of their grades and their problem areas.  Being proactive is the key to your child’s success.

Great Math Skills: Nature or Nurture?

Every parent does it—lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling wondering if he or she is doing the right thing by his or her child, giving them what they will need in terms of education to succeed in the future.  And as most educators will tell you, the key to success is giving your child a good grounding in skills that will be vital in the future, particularly mathematics and science.  Now, this sentence may have just sent off alarm bells, as many parents sweated through school over just those two very subjects.  But never fear; recent research has shown that scholarly ability, particularly in the field of mathematics, isn’t something that a child is born with.  Instead, it is something that is nurtured over time by conscientious parents and educators working with a motivated student.  So if you weren’t a mathematical Einstein, there is still hope that your child may one day grow up to be one.

A recent research study conducted by Kou Murayama and other psychology researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) shows that it is motivation and study skills which help with mathematical success, not some innate natural born ability or a child’s IQ.  This means that dedicated and motivated parents can play an important role in helping to ensure mathematical success.

 Fun Math Games

One of the biggest keys to this success is motivation.  Making mathematics interesting with fun games is the key.  From a young age, encourage your child to play with toys that help with mathematical skill.  Even simple toys such as building blocks can help in this area with the very young since it helps identify geometric shapes and encourages spatial reasoning.  Move them up to games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders which teach counting skills.  Eventually, the fun can continue with online math games which help reinforce specific mat
No matter what you choose to do, the key is to do something.  Motivation, like mathematical ability, doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  It requires time and patience to work with your child to help make them a success in the world of mathematics.hematical skills while adding a video game component to make learning fun.  Finally, be sure to encourage your child to see the everyday implications of mathematics with daily examples of how math works in day-to-day life.  This doesn’t have to mean quizzing your child every five minutes on the multiplication tables.  But let them help with budgeting when you go grocery shopping and ask them to figure out how much change you should get back when you pay for dinner at a restaurant.  If the child is older, have them help you calculate the 15% tip at a restaurant based on your total bill.  This shows them that math can be used in every day life.

Top Five Math Game Sites

Computer Math GamesChildren are becoming technological whizzes at a relatively young age.  Go into any elementary school in America and you will probably find a seven-year-old who can work your iPhone, tablet, or laptop better than you can.  So it should come as no surprise that the way these students learn is also moving to a new, technological realm.  And many educators are not fighting this trend, but embracing it because they realize that the technology has the potential to actively engage the students while reinforcing skills that they learn in the classroom.  Here are five of the best sites that I have found on the web to help students with their mathematics.

1.  Cut-the-Knot—I had to rank this website ( number one for one huge reason:  the fact that the material covered is so advanced.  You will be hard pressed to find another website out there that touches on such topics as calculus, trigonometry, and probability and statistics.  There is even a section on fractals, which can be some of the coolest of advanced math concepts.

2.  NASA Quest—I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for NASA ever since I toured the Space Center in Alabama when I was ten and Cape Canaveral a few years later.  The NASA Quest website ( is wonderful, not just because it reinforces math skills, but also because it does so by showing students the practical applications of mathematics in the fields of science and technology.

3.  Mathnook—One of the things I like about Mathnook ( is the layout of the website which centers on skills.  You can choose a variety of games that range from basic number skills and computations up to more advanced work centered around algebra and geometry.  This really covers the gamut of mathematical skills and is a great site to check out for arcade style fun math games.

4.  Funbrain—This website ( is really cool because it offers not only mathematics arcade-style games but also reading activities as well including the widely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

5.  PBS Kids—Parents have known for years that you can’t go wrong with PBS and this site ( is no exception.  This is a great site for learning basic concepts such as measurement and counting skills as well as simple computations.

We are a long way away from students learning everything they need to know from computers.  Cold, impersonal machines can never replace caring, motivated teachers and no one should even attempt such a feat.  But these computers, like the abacus and the slide rule and the calculator that came before, do have a place as tools in the classroom to help your child with their education.  That is why it is important to embrace these developments as a means of working with your child.