Archive for February 22, 2011

Top 6 Math Songs

On cold days, I look for creative ways for my sons to burn energy indoors. If I were forced to give it a title, today’s game would be called, “Up and Down the Stairs with a Song.” Eli ran up the stairs to the second floor while Alex ran down the stairs to the basement; then they both returned to the main level where they sang a song; then each boy ran up or down the other set of stairs; and, finally, they returned to the main level and rang the “dinger,” a bell included with one of their toddler games.

During the game, the song that Eli sang was mathematical:

1, 2, 3,
4, 5, 6, …
That’s how the numbers go.

7, 8, 9,
10, 11, 12, …
That’s all you really need to know.

13, 14, 15, 16, …
On and on they go.

17, 18, 19, 20, …
Gotta line ’em up just so!

The song is from “1-2-3, Count With Me,” a Sesame Street video starring Ernie (sans Bert). My favorite song from the video is Martian Beauty, but sadly, it just doesn’t hold the same appeal for Eli and Alex.

There have been lots of math songs through the ages, and the number has risen exponentially with YouTube. Generally, math songs are humorous. (Maybe because no one would listen to a math song that wasn’t funny?) Below are my top five six.

7 8 9 – Barenaked Ladies

Thanks to Joshua Zucker for reminding me of this gem! How could I have forgotten? One of the moldiest of all oldie math jokes turned into a song. Shame on me for not including this in the original “Top 5 Math Songs” list.

5. That’s How the Numbers Go – Ernie (Sesame Street)

This is the song from the Sesame Street video “1-2-3, Count With Me.” I worried that it wasn’t sophisticated enough for readers of MJ4MF, but if Steven Strogatz can reference the video in a column for the New York Times, well, that’s credibility enough for me.

4. Lateralus – Tool

Even if you don’t like the genre, Lateralus by Tool gets big props for its intricate use of the Fibonacci sequence. The time signatures of the chorus change from 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8. Drummer Danny Carey said the song “was originally titled 9-8-7 for the time signatures. Then it turned out that 987 was the 17th number of the Fibonacci sequence. So that was cool.” They exploited this relationship in several ways.

  • The number of syllables in the verses follow the pattern ‎1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 8, 5, 3, which rise and fall with the Fibonacci sequence.
  • The song mentions spirals several times.
  • The first word is sung at 1:37 into the song, and 97 seconds ≈ 1.618 minutes, which just happens to be the golden ratio, a number strongly associated with the Fibonacci sequence.

As it turns out, Tool has several other mathy songs, including Parabola, Forty Six and 2, and Cesaro Summability.

3. What You Know About Math? – Ethan Gilbert and Aaron Flack

Ethan Gilbert and Aaron Flack created a numerical sensation with What You Know About Math. With almost 4 million visits on YouTube, the song deserves a place on this list.

2. New Math – Tom Lehrer

This list could have easily been composed entirely of Tom Lehrer songs, since his titles include New Math, The Derivative Song, and Lobachevsky, but that seems unfair to the other artists who have contributed so much to the math music genre. So I tried to pick just one song that represents his body of work. (Personally, I think his best song is The Elements, but it’s not very mathy. And my apologies for linking to that particular video… I beg your forgiveness for including a link to a video that spells Lehrer’s name wrong and mistates the song title, but I chose it because it nicely displays the lyrics while the song plays.)

1. Finte Simple Group of Order Two – The Klein Four

The lyrics of Finite Simple Group of Order Two contain enough bad math puns to keep an undergraduate math major chuckling an entire semester. Doesn’t hurt that these guys are pretty good singers, too.

February 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm 3 comments

Tickling the Ivies

So tonight, I was supposed to attend an event called Dinner With Interesting People at the University of Pennsylvania. And guess what? I was going to be the interesting person!

I would have been speaking to students at Ware College House about possible careers in math education. For those of you who are interested in this subject, the Guide to Career Education is a great tool for finding courses and training programs when pursuing a math-related career. Of course, my talk was going to include more than a few jokes, including this one:

3 miles of medical tubing at the University
of Pennsylvania hospital = 1 I.V. League

Though my talk would surely have kept the audience at the edge of its seat, sadly, it had to be cancelled. That bummed me out. While the talk wouldn’t have earned me an honorary doctorate, I had planned to acquire a University of Pennsylvania sweatshirt while on campus. Which reminds me of a story.

In Possible Side Effects, writer Augusten Burroughs tells about a confrontation he had with a Harvard grad. Wearing a Harvard t‑shirt, he stepped into the elevator in his apartment building, and a woman stepped into the elevator with him. He wrote:

“Did you go to Harvard?” some bitch I’d never seen before in the elevator of my building asked. Something in her tone almost made it sound like, “You didn’t go to Harvard.” That tiniest note of accusation put me on the defensive. But I also loathed the idea of speaking to her just because of her smug haircut.

“Uh, no,” I admitted. “I just…” and let the sentence die in my mouth, hoping I wouldn’t have to explain why.

“Just what?” she said, now crossing her arms across her chest. She was smiling, but it was clearly a hostile smile.

“Well, I just like college t‑shirts,” I said. And I smiled, too. But I did so in a way that I hoped make me look friendly and not terribly intelligent. Thus, harmless.


“Don’t you think that’s a little deceptive?” she asked.

“Deceptive?” I said.

“Like telling someone you’re a doctor or a police officer when you’re nothing of the kind.”

Like many people in New York City, she was bossy and had a raging sense of entitlement. “Well,” I said, darker now. “I don’t think it’s any more deceptive than wearing four‑inch come‑f**k‑me pumps when one has no intention of ever f**king anybody.” I smirked and looked down at her pumps, then at her pinched, tight little spinster mouth.

That shut her up, and she walked out of the elevator. I could feel the heat of resentment wafting off her flesh.

And I felt guilty. Because the truth is, not only did I not go to Harvard, I didn’t even go to high school.

Truth is, if people saw me in a Penn sweatshirt and assumed that I was a Penn grad, I’d probably have felt a little guilty, too. “No,” I’d have to explain. “I’m actually a graduate of Penn State. We may not be as smart, but we’ve got a much better football team.” So maybe it’s for the best that the talk was cancelled…

February 22, 2011 at 1:56 am Leave a comment

About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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