Musical Fractions- An Introduction

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SWBAT write fraction equations to represent the measures in a very simple musical score.

Big Idea

Students use math, music and technology in this engaging lesson on fractions!

For the Teacher

In this unit I use the program Noteflight, an online resource that creates music notation in a computer's browser.

I also use Screencast-O-Matic to record the students' work in Noteflight  because that facilitates sharing.  Here is a brief explanation on how to use Screencast-O-Matic to record Noteflight.  Doing this means I can cue up the students' musical scores, or my demo scores, without having to log into the Noteflight account each time.  I really enjoy these lessons and so do the students.  Please let me know if there is anything I can clarify for you regarding how to make them work for your classroom!


15 minutes

I pass out the entrance ticket and play Waves in a Tidal Puddle - a very simple piece of music in 4/4 time. This time signature means there are four beats to each measure and quarter notes "take" the beat.  Four quarter notes equal one whole note.  

The goal of this lesson is to introduce the students to the idea that there is math in music, and music in math.  This lesson is built so that teachers and students without any musical background can use and enjoy it!

This lesson is built around the idea of having students "look for and make use of structure." (Mathematical Practice 7).  By creating a focus on patterns kinesthetically and musically (two eighths always make a fourth, two fourths always make a half and so on) this series of activities provides students with an alternative avenue towards developing a deeper understanding of fractions.  They are everywhere!

What Are the Notes Worth?

25 minutes

In this part of the lesson I introduce students to basic 4/4 notation.  Again, simply put, this means that there are 4 beats to a measure.  Four quarter notes fill up one measure, and equal one whole note.

I show these music clips and talk through the note values.  This example shows notes in relation to one whole. Here are additional examples with quarter and eighth notes. As we go through these examples, students fill out the Musical Fractions study guide.  There is extra room on the right side of the paper where students are encouraged to write down questions or take additional notes on details or important words (i.e., language of the discipline).   I also chose to extend them by talking about sixteenths & thirty-seconds as well.

I made this file, Musical Fractions Teacher Copy, to provide you with some extra support in teaching this lesson.

Listen, Look and Apply

20 minutes

I play two basic music clips for the students and we discuss the mathematical patterns found in the music using the notes as fractions page. 

Here is the first piece of music, which I named Charley Wants A Shoe.  Something delightful happened when I first played this.  The children burst out into a spontaneous song, and with some kind of magical hive mentality created lyrics on the spot.  It made my day!  

This is the second piece of music, Happy Charley Chews a Shoe.

Here are a few examples of student work: Musical Fractions Intro Student Work Samples


Charley is my pet Chihuahua.

 This piece of music is Charley and His Small Ball. Gremlin, the composer, is my cat.

I believe that in the sharing of (appropriate) simple day-to-day elements of my life, such as talking about my pets, I build my connection to the students before me.

Wrap Up

2 minutes

Students fill out the Exit Ticket at the end of this lesson.  This enables me to gauge what I need to address and refine in tomorrow's instruction and individual differentiation, and it solidifies student understanding because they are thinking about their thinking!  Yahoo metacognition!