Ready for a brain-teaser? Please record yourself trying out the pulse/rhythm exercise below and then share it with us. I’m sure we could all do with a good laugh.

I am convinced that studying music enhances skill and understanding in mathematics. Yet people are often surprised by the idea. So let’s check out just one way in which music is mathematical – by exploring ‘pulse’ and ‘rhythm’.

Pulse is the ongoing beat of the music. Just like your own pulse or your footsteps when you settle into a walk or run, it continues steadily. When an audience claps along to a piece of music they are generally clapping the pulse – because the pulse is predictable. Regardless of how fast the dancers dance, the violinists’ fingers blur into a string of notes or the singer sings a sustained sound, the audience can clap along at a steady pace – even if they do not know the piece that they are listening to. Try putting on a piece of music and seeing if you can find a steady beat to walk, clap or bounce a ball to. If you can, you have found the pulse.

The pulse is generally split into groups of 2, 3 or 4 (these groups are called ‘bars). Sound complicated? It’s simple. As you walk, count your steps, but don’t count endlessly, simply count 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, repeatedly. Now you are ‘in 4’. If you count in groups of 3, (counting 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,) you are ‘in 3’. Got that so far? Great. Well here comes the challenge!

Now we are going to add rhythm. Whilst you continue walking steadily and counting 1, 2, 3, 4, let’s split those 4 beats up. You can divide it however you like but it must add up to 4. For instance: a 4-beat section of music may be broken up in this way: ¼ + ¼ + ¼ + ¼ + 2 + 1. So, whilst you continue walking that straight pulse, try subdividing the first pulse beat into quarters by clapping 4 times evenly in the first step, (the first clap will land with your foot) clapping once on your second step and holding the clap through your third step, and then clapping once on the final step.

How did you get on? If you managed it, you are a genius. If it was utterly beyond you, at least you’ve had your fortnightly blast of laughter yoga. Yippee! (If you want to know what you were supposed to be getting up to, check out my video here).

You were aiming to clap the rhythm whilst walking the pulse. The pulse is always even and unbroken, yet the rhythm subdivides the pulse in any number of ways. Once you make that knowledge conscious, you are helping to enhance a deep understanding and feeling for symmetry, addition, subtraction, balance, multiplication, division and patterns. Welcome to kinaesthetic maths!

There are plenty of other ways of understanding the correlation between music and maths, for instance this article on pitch. Otherwise, check out this week’s Laughter yoga video: Isn’t It About Time YOU Knew The Difference Between Pulse & Rhythm?

To book into Sing Release Transform’s ‘Enchanting Singing Weekend’ 1st-3rd September 2017 click here. Starting from just £75 including all workshops, homemade food and art materials.

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Listening to Maths