Mexican Songs and Algebra

This class meets curricular goals in music, culture and math and truly integrates the practical use of algebra as a problem-solving tool. It is a 60-minute lesson appropriate for 9 to 19 year old students, whether or not they have had algebra before. It introduces the concepts of variables and formulas as they apply to music form and music composition.

The class is taught by Juan Díes using a Powerpoint™ presentation and a guitar. It can also be taught with recorded music and with members of the Ensemble performing live music samples.

A big part of Music composition is the ability to build aesthetically pleasing structures of rhythmic and melodic patterns. Algebra and patterns go well together. Algebra lends itself well as a shorthand expression of patterns.

For example: (a) basic exercise: if the chorus of a song is repeated twice, we can express it as 2x, where x=the chorus, (b) mid level exercise: if a drum pattern is repeated eight times and is followed by a different pattern that is repeated four times, we can expressed it as 8a + 4b, where a=the first drum pattern and b= the second, and (c) advanced level exercise: How many [X=?] 4-bar phrases [P=4] in a jingle of 60 seconds in length [L=60] played at a tempo of 120 beats per minute [T=120] with six beats to a bar [B=6]? The answer is X=L/[(60/T)(B•P)]=five.

Students will be challenged and rewarded to find a real-world application of algebra in music.

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