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
6. 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.