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Secondary Magazine - Issue 17

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 19 August 2008 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 09 September 2008 by ncetm_administrator

Secondary Magazine

Welcome to issue 17 of the NCETM Secondary Magazine. Read on to discover our regular fortnightly features. Why not let us know what you want to see in forthcoming issues? If you have thoughts to share you can also add your comments on the portal.
The Proms
The world’s ‘greatest classical music festival’ as it is billed, is currently taking place in London – Proms 2008 is the 114th season of this amazing event. I’ll certainly be queuing down the steps outside the Albert Hall to hear a world famous orchestra for £5 – the cost of promenading in the Arena and Gallery this year. So what is it about mathematics and music? There are always murmurings of ‘they do go well together’ when both are mentioned in the same sentence.

The structure and language of music is a well ordered, logical system governed by rules and algorithms:

•  Different pitches are annotated on a stave, certain patterns of pitches are arranged into major and minor scales, key signatures make it easier to write out these scales.

•  Note values are written in a common format – we know that, for instance:
= crotchet = 1 beat, and
= minim = 2 beats etc.
•  Time signatures give an indication of how groups of notes can be arranged into bars which in turn are arranged into metrical phrases (12 bar blues for example).

As in any well ordered set of axioms, outcomes can be reached by following algorithms or by developing intuition: In music, I might use my knowledge of key signatures (Fat Charles Goes Down An Escalator Backwards) to determine that A major has three sharps – or I might hear that I need to raise the third, sixth and seventh notes C, F and  G to C#, F# and G#. Knowing that a key signature of
 has six quaver beats in a bar, I might add extra quavers to make this the case or I might hear/feel that the metre of the music needs those quavers to make it right. These rules are so ingrained into our musical understanding that composers who push the boundaries or break the rules create varying degrees of interest and challenge for the listener.

I was interested to read the following statement in the new QCA Programme of Study:

“M*** is a creative discipline. The language of m*** is international. The subject transcends cultural boundaries and its importance is universally recognised.”

Could this statement sit within the mathematics or the music curriculum? (As you know, it’s actually within the ‘Importance statement’ for mathematics). The theory of music is a ‘universal language’ which can be accessed by all; those who are used to working in a logical domain will access this readily. Are mathematicians initially drawn to musical performance as being the articulation of a set of well-ordered algorithms?
If this is the case, where does this break down? When do interpretation, tone colour and dynamics begin to assume a higher priority and the algorithms, once assumed, take a back seat? (Once I ‘know’ my tables I don’t think about how I know them, but I use them as a tool when tackling mathematical problems.)

When I sat down with a glass of wine, listening to Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs’ as part of the opening night of the Proms 2008,  I didn’t think about anything mathematical or anything to do with form, structure or rhythm. I was totally captivated by the sheer beauty of those wonderful songs which engage my emotions and I know for me that they are ‘to die for’.

Enjoy the Proms 2008.

Click here to read ‘The Magical Mathematics of Music’ by Jeffrey S. Rosenthal.

Click here to view the Proms 2008 website.

Click here to listen to ‘In Our Time: Mathematics and Music’.

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Secondary Focus - Take a tour of the portal and see what tehre is to bring a sense of enjoyment to your maths lessons  
Visit the Secondary Magazine Archive

Browse... Issue 17
The Interview, Around the regions, An idea for the classroom, 5 things to do, The Diary, Focus on
Departmental Workshops - Structured professional development activities

Focus on


The Diary - real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader


An idea for the classroom


5 things to do


The Interview


Around the regions - news, views and updates from the NCETM Regional Coordinators


Explore the Secondary Forum

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