MEET THE MATHEMUSICIAN!
"Find, find the value of pi -- starts 3 point 1 4 1
5 9. Good ol boys gave it a try, but the decimal never dies ....
-- from Larry Lesser's "American Pi"
BRIEF BIO: Dr. Larry Lesser has taught mathematics, statistics and mathematics education courses for Armstrong Atlantic State University (Savannah, GA), the University of Northern Colorado (Greeley, CO), the University of Texas (Austin, TX), Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX) and St. Edward's University (Austin, TX), as well as worked as a statistician for the Texas Legislative Council's Research Division. During the 2002-03 school year, he will be updating his mathematics education experiential base by teaching a full load of Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry courses at Emery HS. He has authored numerous articles, co-authored a college algebra textbook, and his work has been cited in several scholarly publications as well as covered by national (TV, radio and print) media sources.
To support his mission in increasing awareness and interest
in mathematics, Lesser has tapped his singer-songwriter background to yield
an additional formula for information dissemination -- math-and-music demonstrations
and math songs! The latter have proven especially unique and popular,
generating media coverage from Savannah to Melbourne, catapulting Lesser
from virtual obscurity to relative obscurity! Lesser has already
published 21 math
lyrics (all but 2 in international/national journals) as well as the
first juried comprehensive articles on using songs in math class.
Lesser brings his acoustic guitar to classrooms and workshops to perform
raps and musical parodies of contemporary popular music, creatively adapting
those lyrics towards math topics such as symmetry, infinity, math history
(e.g., of pi), problem solving, and graphing functions, as well as even
more worldly applications such as whether to play the lottery or adjust
click here if you want a full-length background
Lesser performs during keynote presentation
for district-wide K-12 inservice
for Cherry Creek School District (Denver),
February 1999 (photograph © L. Davis).
By undertaking the challenge of playing guitar left-handed,
Lesser gains a fresh opportunity to illustrate the mathematical concept of "reflection"!
Contact Lesser via Emery HS or via email (e.g., email@example.com)
For Lesser's lyrics listed below, teachers do not need permission to use them as is for their own classroom,
as long as they include the statement "Lyrics copyright Lawrence Mark Lesser. All rights reserved".
Those interested in other uses (including any sales or republication in any form, including print or Internet) or other lyrics need to discuss them with Dr. Lesser beforehand.
For publicity purposes, you are welcome to reproduce the above photo (with the credit: photograph © 1999 L. Davis) or to excerpt from the
"press release" or "bio" information in the top and bottom sections of this page.
published MATH LYRICS....
from the Spring 2002 issue of GCTM Reflections(p.
Not Even!" is an "odd" rap that gives (upper elementary school and up) students a fun way to explore mathematical and real world connections with odd numbers!
from the Winter 2002 issue of STATS(pp. 16-17):
The Gambler addresses strategies and myths for playing a state lottery, and may be sung to the tune of the same-titled Don Schlitz song that yielded Kenny Rogers a #1 country hit and TV miniseries. [My interest in finding creative ways to educate general audiences about the lottery dates back to a highly-publicized (all the way to CNN Headline News!) course I created on the psychology and probability underlying the then-new Texas Lottery; see articles in November 1997 Spreadsheet User and August 28, 1993 Austin American-Statesman]
Birthday Song contrasts the often confused events of "some people matching" with "someone matches with ME" [see my article about the Birthday Problem in the May 1999 Mathematics Teacher], and may be sung to the tune of Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hills Happy Birthday to You.
Statisticians BLUEs is a statisticians breakup song pun-ctuated with statistics terms (12-bar blues music and lyrics by Lesser).
from the Winter 2002 issue of GCTM Reflections(p. 11):
Your Work" reminds all of us (from student to teacher to NASA contractor!)
of something important to do, and may be sung to the tune of "I've Been
Working on the Railroad".
from the August 2001 issue of Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal (p. 2):
to Seven" -- explores a rich variety of mathematical and real-world
connections to the number 7, and may be sung to the tune of Jimmy Page
and Robert Plant's (7-verse) song "Stairway to Heaven," the Led Zeppelin
song that has been played most on the radio. As Monte Zerger says
in the March 2002 College Mathematics Journal (p. 74): "A
mathematical exploration into the 'life' of a natural number can not only
be an entertaining and refreshing diversion, it can lead to engaging questions
and unexpected discoveries as well."
from the May 2001 issue of Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal (p. 6, p. 46):
"Hotel Infinity" -- was used as a metaphor by German mathematician David Hilbert near the start of the 1900's to help address paradoxes about infinity that had emerged, and may be sung to the tune of the (also surreal) #1 hit by The Eagles that was the title cut off their #1 album Hotel California. [I was inspired by the Eagles' song and by Ian Stewart's "Hilbert's Hotel" story in the December 1998 New Scientist]
-- explains the newest of the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards, and may be sung to the
tune of Carly Simons #13 hit Anticipation that was later also used in
a ketchup commercial! [ I was inspired to write this lyric while writing
an article on multiple representations which appears in the 2001
NCTM Yearbook ]
from the Autumn 2001 issue of Teaching Statistics(p. 84):
Leave of Our Census" -- summarizes the recent controversy about
statistically adjusting Americas decennial census for undercount, and
may be sung to the tune of John Denvers #1 hit Annies Song [As the
sole staff statistician for the Texas Legislative Council during their
redistricting project in 1990-91, I utilized Census data and gained
context to appreciate some of the issues recently raised about statistical
adjustment for undercount.] This lyric was republished in the Winter
2002 issue of STATS.
from the May 2000 issue of Mathematics Teacher (pp. 372-377):
We Will Graph You! -- encourages students step-by-step to graph a given function (there's a version for "general form" parabolas and a version adapted from a John A. Carter lyric for "slope-intercept form" lines) as they chant over the pound-pound-clap rhythmic pattern (an algo-rhythm?) of Queens #4 hit We Will Rock You! On March 31, 2002, the quadratic version was republished to accompany a story in the Herald Sun, the largest-selling newspaper in Australia!
American Pi -- presents historical highlights (and a mnemonic for the first 6 significant figures) of the number pi, ranging from an implied value in the Bible to the Indiana legislatures 1897 consideration of a bill that declared pi equal to 4 [see Arthur Hallerberg's article "Indiana's Squared Circle" in the May 1977 Mathematics Magazine], and may be sung to the tune of Don McLeans #1 hit American Pie. The Math Forum website lists it as a great song for "Pi Day" (3/14)!
Domain and Range -- helps students keep in mind a functions possible inputs and outputs, and may be sung to the tune of the traditional 19th-century (pre-Billboard charts!) Western song Home on the Range. [you can hear a radio performance of this song that Lesser performed during a recent appearance (it's archived at www.webct.com; you can skip to the 47th minute to hear the song) on "Math Medley," a weekly hour-long talkradio show broadcast live on AM radio in Arizona and New England and on Internet radio www.renaissanceradio.com worldwide!]
Fifty Ways to Work a Problem -- reminds students that real-life problem solving follows a general strategy (i.e., G. Polya's 4 steps as paraphrased in the chorus) but can be carried out in many ways, and may be sung to the tune of Paul Simons (only solo) #1 hit Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. [ note: Simon's lyric lends itself to being parodied also to teach specific bits of content, as illustrated by Dan Kalman in the Nov. 1993 College Mathematics Journal or David Morgereth in the Oct. 2001 Mathematics Teacher ]
From a Distance -- explains how some features of a graph are revealed and others concealed when viewed from a distance, and may be sung to the tune of the Grammy-winning song written by Julie Gold that was a #2 hit for Bette Midler. [I was inspired to connect views of world harmony to views of a graph by a writing-to-learn exercise in an algebra textbook (Wells and Schmitt 1996, p. 321) which asked students to connect the opening line of Gold's song with the fact that the graphs of y = x^7 and y = x^7 - 3x^6 + x^5 look similar from a distance.]
The Way I Learn Best -- allows students to express their
learning style and experiences in mathematics [it could be adapted for
other subjects also] as they fill in the blanks of the script and then
may sing it to the tune of Suzanne Vegas Grammy-nominated #5 hit Luka.
from the April 2000 issue of Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal(p. 48, p. 11):
-- addresses students' common initial question about the usefulness of
imaginary numbers, and may be sung to the tune of John Lennon's #3 hit
[my lyric was inspired by reviewing Paul J. Nahin's An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i for the October 1999 Mathematics Teacher.]
Math Induction -- introduces the technique of mathematical
induction to students, adapted with permission from a lyric by Dane R.
Camp (in his fun 1998 ICTM booklet) and may be sung to the tune of Bob
Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" (a #2 hit for Peter Paul & Mary).
from the March 1999 issue of Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal(p. 19, p. 32, p. 12):
Music of the Spheres -- was inspired by the so-named Pythagorean idea (also referred to centuries later by others such as Maimonides and Kepler) that each planet contributed a particular "note" (based on ratios of small whole numbers) to the grand harmony of the universe (lyrics and music written by Lesser).
Cantor's Coat -- concisely depicts the challenges that mathematician
faced during his life (lyrics and music written by Lesser).
[inspired by reading J. W. Dauben's Georg Cantor: His Mathematics and Philosophy of the Infinite,Princeton University Press, 1979]
Numbers Man -- is a whimsical "math love song" I imagined my father could have written for my mother, whom he got to know by being her calculus tutor (lyrics and music written by Lesser).
CD: I've had many inquiries about this (and certainly have enough "material") and will post word here if and when I can secure all needed resources, time, logistics, etc., to create one (a link to an audio file containing "Domain and Range" can be found above, though). Here are some options for now: (1) give yourself (or students) permission to sing the lyrics a capella, (2) share the spotlight with musically inclined students in your classroom who can provide the accompaniment on appropriate instruments, (3) get a vocals-removed karaoke disc of the original tune and sing (and/or have students sing) the math lyrics instead, or (4) bring me to your school!
Educators, Administrators & Media are saying....
From the editorial (p. 66) in the Autumn
2001 Teaching Statistics:
"[Lesser's article in this issue] ranges far and wide, and is full of ideas that might help to stimulate your pupils and students to take a deeper interest in statistics. The message that comes over to me is that it is truly amazing where statistics turns up, and it is also truly amazing to see the breadth of serious other interests that statisticians have."
From the editorial (p. 2) in the Winter 2002 issue
of the American Statistical Association's magazine STATS:
"[Lesser] has penned (and performed) several clever and entertaining lyrics based on popular tunes that deal with statistics issues.
Be forewarned, reader -- you may find yourself singing those songs as you read them."
From the Aug/Sept. 2000 Focus (Mathematical
Association of America's national newsletter):
"...the most mathematical songwriter since Tom Lehrer"
Dr. Dane R. Camp, an Illinois high school mathematics
teacher who has led national and statewide "math-song sing-alongs", and
who is current chair of the Mathematics Teacher Editorial
"I am always impressed at how much research you put into your [math and music] articles. They are not fluff, by any means. As a former college DJ, I found the references to pop music very interesting."
From a featured 2001 "Math News" item at StudyWorks!
Online, a resource of MathSoft Engineering
and Education, Inc. :
"Lesser teaches mathematics using songs, adding life to a subject people sometimes expect to be lifeless....
[Lesser] has a talent for combining music and technical material."
Sue Rarus, the Manager of Information Services at
the National Association for Music Education,
"Very very clever and very interesting! I wish they'd had something like this when I was learning my algebra!
We will keep the website reference in our file of interdisciplinary curriculum, and refer callers to it when we get a request along those lines."
Alan O'Day, songwriter who's had #1 radio hits as well as written for National Geographic Children's videos, etc., wrote: "I am impressed. Having always approached music from a decidedly UN-mathematical perspective, I think it's great that you have made this unique whimsical approach work so well."
John Chase, middle school teacher and co-founder
of M.U.S.I.C. (Musicians United
for Songs In the Classroom, a nonprofit national organization promoting
the educational use of popular songs by teachers in all subject areas),
"I have created a link to your excellent web site from the 'Classroom Strategies and Resources' section of our web site.....I have added 'American Pi', 'Fifty Ways to Work a Problem' and 'The Way I Learn Best' to our Song Directory." [Note: Those 3 lyrics have also been republished by M.U.S.I.C. with permission in the 2nd edition (2001) of its sourcebook Learning with Lyrics]
Jessica Baron Turner, founder of Guitars
in the Classroom (a non-profit grant program bringing music with guitars
into the elementary school classroom) wrote:
"We are in complete agreement about ways to work math and music together....
I'd love to share your work with the teachers at our pilot schools. I've already referred all the facilitators to your [web]site."
Linda Oliver, 2000 Chatham County (GA) "Teacher of the Year," wrote: "Dr. Lesser was a master at grabbing and holding their [4th-graders'] attention by using music and magic. He brought in several instruments and used them to make connections between mathematics and music or sang a tune about some mathematical concept."
Arlene Hansen, assistant director of University of
Northern Colorado's Sponsored Programs & Academic Research Center,
What a great idea for teaching math! If I had had something like this, maybe Id be an engineer today....
Evelyn Aimar, 1993 Chatham County (GA) "Teacher of the Year," wrote: "I shared your [fractions and music] lesson with Mr. Patricio and he told me today that he had tried it with fifth graders and it worked well. See what an impact you are having on Hesse Elementary students."
From the October 12, 2000 Savannah Morning News:
"he has synthesized his two main interests into an innovative, hands-on approach to teaching mathematics"
From the March
31, 2002 Herald Sun(based in Melbourne and Victoria, it's
Australia's largest-selling newspaper!)
"Larry Lesser has discovered the secret to fostering a love for mathematics in his students....
Dr. Lesser won't whack his precious words into any old song. He chooses his songs lovingly..."
Written comments from in-service teachers attending
What a powerful idea for any math classroom!
Your presentation on pitch and length of guitar strings stimulated my interest.
Would love to be able to sing these with my students.
"I enjoyed the talk and plan to use it to some degree in several classes. I am excited to have a fresh, new idea."
"I was so inspired, I'm thinking of taking up playing guitar again. Thanks again for a FUN workshop."
"This is a great idea and you have some really clever songs. There was a nice variety of activities besides the songs."
"Thanks for thinking and teaching 'out of the box'! "
"Great! I love to sing and have been looking for ways to include that talent into my teaching."
"I liked the fact you talked about not needing talent"
Linda Nash, 2000 program chair for Georgia's annual
conference of mathematics teachers, wrote a week after my keynote:
"I really had a great time ... thanks mainly to folks like you who made it all come together. I'm still humming some of your tunes."
HERE to share your experiences or feedback
about these or other math-and-music ideas you have found or tried
to inquire about booking Larry for your next event:
Armstrong Atlantic State University
Savannah, GA 31419-1997
the 4 MOST REQUESTED PRESENTATIONS
(for conference keynotes, banquet presentations,
minicourses, inservice workshops, assemblies, family math nights,
interdisciplinary projects, gifted & talented enrichment programs,
multi-day residency, and selected corporate events):
1.) "Exploring Connections Between Mathematics and Music"
2.) "Formula for a Hit: Using Songs to Learn Mathematics and Statistics"
3.) "Mathemusician's Medley"
4.) "Workshop on Songwriting, Raps, Poetry, etc."
NOTE: combinations of the above
can be tailored to entertain, motivate and educate (simultaneously!)
audiences from upper elementary school to university level -- students, educators and general audiences!
Recent "Mathemusician" Presentations
Mathematical Association of America & American
special session presentation at annual national meeting, January 1994
Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics
session presentation at annual meeting, October 1995
Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics
session presentation at annual meeting, October 1998
Cherry Creek School District
plenary keynote presentation for inservice workshop for 500 mathematics teachers (K-12), February 1999
Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics
presentation at annual meeting, October 1999
Teachers Teaching with Technology
session at a regional T^3 conference, May 2000
Armstrong Atlantic State University
invited opening lecture for 2000-01 Robert Ingram Strozier Faculty Lecture Series, October 2000
Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics
keynote plenary presentation at annual meeting, October 2000
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
workshop at annual national meeting, April 2001
Georgia Music Hall of Fame Museum & Richmond Hill
Richmond Hill, GA
educational program attended by 220 children and held at Richmond Hill Primary School, June 2001
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum
invited workshop at summer teacher institute, June 2001
Georgia Southern University
invited opening seminar of Math/CS Dept.'s 2001-2002 Visiting Lecture Series, August 2001
Lowcountry Mathematics and Science Hub (of five school
inservice keynote presentations, October 2001
University System of Georgia's Post-Secondary Readiness
Enrichment Program (PREP)
for Bartlett Middle School, December 2001
14th Annual International Folk Alliance Conference
invited workshop, February 2002
Mathematics/Science/Technology Conference of
the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Teachers Teaching with Technology
invited workshop, May 2002
FAVORITE QUOTATIONS ON MATH & MUSIC (please pass along others you know)
"Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from
counting without being aware that it is counting."
-- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
"Mathematics and music, the most sharply contrasted fields
of scientific activity which can be found,
and yet related, supporting each other, as if to show forth the secret connection which ties together
all the activities of our mind, and which leads us to surmise that the manifestations of the artist's genius are
but the unconscious expressions of a mysteriously acting rationality." -- Hermann von Helmholtz, Vorträgeund Reden, Bd. 1 (Braunschweig, 1884), p. 82
"May not music be described as mathematics of the sense,
mathematics as music of the reason?" -- J. J. Sylvester,
On Newton's Rule for the Discovery of Imaginary Roots; Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, p. 419
"Musical training is a more potent instrument than any
because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of soul,
on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace,
and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful..."
-- Plato, The Republic, III
"Educators have always known that learning and life are
where play and work coincide." -- L. W. Gibbs
"In the future, we can expect that not much difference
will exist between education and entertainment.
We just have to put intelligence behind the entertainment." (Larry notes: see WLME8!)
-- North Carolina State University's James Lester,
quoted at the 12th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning
"It is harmony which restores unity to the contrasting
parts and which mounlds them into a cosmos.
Harmony is divine, it consists of numerical ratios.
Whosoever acquires full understanding of this number harmony, he becomes himself divine and immortal."
-- B. L. van der Waerden, describing the beliefs of the followers of Pythagoras
"We do not listen with the best regard to the verses of
a man who is only a poet,
nor to his problems if he is only an algebraist;
but if a man is at once acquainted with the geometric foundation of things and with their festal splendor,
his poetry is exact and his arithmetic music."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude, Ch. 7, Works and Days
"Mathematics is on the artistic side a creation of new
rhythms, orders, designs, harmonies,
and on the knowledge side, is a systematic study of various rhythms, orders, designs and harmonies."
-- William L. Schaaff
"A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker
If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made of ideas.
His patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful;
the ideas, like the colors or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way." -- G. H. Hardy
"Music and math together satisfied a sort of abstract
a desire that was partly intellectual, partly aesthetic, partly emotional, partly, even, physical."
-- Edward Rothstein (p. xv of his 1995 book Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics)
"Each time I've learned a little bit more about the inner
structures of music,
the math of it and the shape of it,
my joy in it has increased."
-- recording artist Peter Mulvey, in the Nov. 2000 Performing Songwriter
"Music is true. An octave is a mathematical
reality. So is a 5th. So is a major 7th chord.
And I have the feeling that these have emotional meanings to us,
not only because we're taught that a major 7th is warm and fuzzy and a diminished is sort of threatening and dark,
but also because they actually do have these meanings. It's almost like it's a language that's not a matter of our choosing.
It's a truth. The laws of physics apply to music, and music follows that.
So it really lifts us out of this subjective, opinionated human position and drops us into the cosmic picture just like that."
-- recording artist James Taylor, in the May 2002 Performing Songwriter
"The syntax and the grammar of the language of music are
they are dictated by the texture and organization of the deep levels of the mind, so with mathematics." -- H. E. Huntley
"The most distinct and beautiful statement of any truth
(as of music)
must take at last the mathematical form." -- Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (Boston, 1893), p. 477
"You cannot evade quantity.
You may fly to poetry and music, and quantity and number will face you in your rhythms and your octaves."
-- Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), English mathematician
"Musical form is close to mathematics -- not perhaps to
but certainly to something like mathematical thinking and relationship." -- Igor Stravinsky
================================ BACKGROUND =================================
Math Professor Larry Lesser finds:
MATH + MUSIC = MORE MOTIVATION
Fighting the negativity towards mathematics still too socially acceptable in popular culture (reflected by songs such as Math Suks from the 1999 Jimmy Buffet album or by dolls that say "math class is tough"), Larry Lesser (an Associate Professor of mathematics at Savannah's Armstrong Atlantic State University) motivates teachers and students by merging two of his great loves -- mathematics and music. Recently, he presented the first songs-in-math-class workshop the annual teacher institute of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum has had, gave the first artists-in-the-classroom workshop at the International Folk Alliance Conference, and was featured in a story in Australia's largest-selling newspaper.
Published as a mathematics educator and songwriter (as well as textbook author and music journalist), "Mathemusician" Lesser has ample qualifications to share links between math, music and song. While getting his mathematics BA, Lesser began songwriting and taking music classes (his only straight-A subject in college!), and helped initiate a for-credit songwriting course at Rice University. While getting a masters in statistics and PhD in mathematics education, Lesser was VP of the Austin Songwriters Group, took private music lessons and ACC music business courses, taught adult education courses in songwriting at the University of Texas, enjoyed some success with his contemporary folk songs (including regional awards, gigs and positive media reviews) and his song Earthwoman was recorded on an album by the acoustic trio Folkus and played on KGSR-FM (Progressive/Triple A format) and KUT-FM (NPR-affiliate). While Lesser had long appreciated the mathematical structures and patterns in the songs he was writing, he was beginning to explore how music might make the mathematics he was teaching more memorable, accessible and exciting for his students, especially for those who did not feel positive connections with mathematics.
After taking his guitar and trying out his talents in his classrooms, Lesser was encouraged to take it further, continuing to create, adapt and refine an accessible collection of demonstrations of connections between mathematical and musical concepts. A few examples of math & music connections Lesser explores (as can most teachers) include: connections between notions of number theory and music theory, mathematical models of how a chime's or string's pitch varies with its length, how the sound of two notes relates to the ratio of their frequencies, how mathematics guides the building and playing of musical instruments, how patterns generate and illuminate rhythms and sequences of notes and chords, how transformations of a melody parallel transformations in mathematics, and other ways mathematics is used (implicitly or explicitly) by composers. [note to educators: Some high school and college teachers have found useful ideas in recent books such as Garland and Kahn's Math and Music: Harmonious Connections(Dale Seymour) or Beall's Functional Melodies: Finding Mathematical Relationships in Music(Key Curriculum Press) or Leon Harkleroad's Mathematics and Music (to be published jointly by the MAA and Cambridge U. Press). Useful background articles include Johnson's in the Nov. 2001 Mathematics Teacher, Osserman's in MAA Notes #32, and Keller & Davidson's on math poems in the May 2001 Mathematics Teacher. College faculty have taught a variety of semester-long math-and-music classes, ranging from those with no mathematical or musical prerequisites (e.g., by Leon Harkleroad when at Cornell University) to those requiring knowledge of music notation and calculus (e.g., by Dave Benson at University of Georgia).]
Not content with making connections only with existing music, Larry also began writing a creative and playful repertoire of well-crafted content-rich math songs (inspired by the work of songwriters such as Tom Lehrer, who, like Larry, has published lyrics in both academic and non-academic publications) -- some stand-alone originals (e.g., "Numbers Man", "Statistician's BLUEs") and others (e.g., "American Pi", "Hotel Infinity", "The Gambler", "We Will Graph You!") that can be sung to the tune of public domain songs or recent hit songs à la "Weird Al" Yankovic. While Lesser has added to the already massive math song repertoire for elementary school, he has had the largest impact on the much thinner repertoire for middle school and high school (a time when attitude and success in math greatly affect future career and college prospects). While the more conventional demands of his work as a mathematics educator have kept him too busy to fulfill requests for a "math song CD", a CD's worth of his math lyrics have appeared in international/national publications (e.g., journals such as Mathematics Teacher, Teaching Statistics, STATS, and Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal,and books such as the new M.U.S.I.C. sourcebook Learning From Lyrics, alongside lyrics by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young and Sting), which have generated several republication requests and offers for a larger book project. Although the high quality of Lesser's lyrics reflect his substantial proficiencies in both mathematics education and songwriting (it's not easy rhyming words like parabola!), he maintains that all have the ability and deserve the opportunity to write their own songs or at least couplets of verse/rap, and he has encountered many enjoyable examples written by teachers and by students. Lesser has written lyrics that can be sung to the tune of songs made famous by country, pop, folk and rock recording artists such as: Madonna, the Eagles, Queen, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Suzanne Vega, Led Zeppelin and John Lennon.
To strengthen his ideas (by the process of peer-review) and spread them to the widest audiences, he wrote pioneering full-length teacher-friendly interdisciplinary articles (e.g., "Sum of Songs: Making Mathematics Less Monotone!" in the May 2000 issue of Mathematics Teacherand "Musical Means: Using Songs in Teaching Statistics" in the Autumn 2001 issue of Teaching Statistics) that show how raps and songs can be used to motivate students in the mathematics classroom, offering (even those with minimal musicianship) numerous activities, tips, and examples. Following his mu's (get it?), Lesser's Teaching Statistics article uses songs for generating descriptive statistics, conducting hypothesis tests, analyzing lyrics (for specific terms and global themes), analyzing data, etc., and he published an article of additional original statistics lyrics in the Winter 2002 STATS. His Mathematics Teacherarticle offers song-based problem solving, critical thinking and enrichment activities, and includes several of his highly original math lyrics such as "American Pi", which can be sung to the tune of the song "American Pie" (a #1 hit for Don McLean in 1972 and a Top-30 hit for Madonna in 2000). Teachers can utilize the new lyric's chorus (see top of the page) as a mnemonic for the first 6 significant figures of pi and may also utilize each line of the verses for a rich exploration of content and pi's very human history. Other lyrics illuminate the process of doing mathematics (e.g., "Fifty Ways to Work a Problem"; see top of the page) or help students recall specific procedures (e.g., "We Will Graph You!"). Published by NCTM, Mathematics Teacher is one of the world's most widely read mathematics education journals (circulation is 50,000 mathematics instructors of students in grades 8 through college). Lesser's article was selected as the article from the print issue to appear (from May 2000 - December 2001) on the journal's website and he was pleasantly startled that the article generated more response within 2 months than he had ever received from his previous dozen publications combined! While thousands of juried articles have been written on math-and-music connections (e.g., see O'Keeffe's bibliography in the April 1972 Mathematics Teacher), there appear not to be any besides Lesser's as specifically and comprehensively on the use of songs in the mathematics/statistics classroom (please let him know if you know of some!).
In his classroom presentations (ranging from a math-song-of-the-month to a full module) from elementary school to college, Lesser has found many benefits beyond just plain fun and building community, such as: motivation, memory aids, meeting mathematics education standards (especially NCTM Standard #9, though Larry's songs address the others, too!), meeting music education standards (especially MENC Standard #8), multiple learning styles and intelligences (especially musical/rhythmic), reducing math phobia, and mashing stereotypes (about math, math class and maybe even mild-mannered math teachers!). Lesser hopes his songs spark interest as did Billy Joels 1989 hit We Didnt Start the Fire for many history classrooms. Lesser explains, "I'm a songwriter at heart who happens to find the processes and patterns of mathematics fascinating and worthy of songs. It's a nice alternative to singing about less-evolved pursuits. While math-and-music is lots of fun, it's also part of a serious responsibility I feel to connect with all students and help them towards mathematical literacy and empowerment in our increasingly information-based society." As his alter ego, The Mathemusician, Lesser puts his microphone where his mouth is, resurrecting the musical passion from his student days to perform with a style that might be described as a mixture of Paul Simon, Weird Al Yankovic, and Bill Nye the Science Guy (hmmm.... is that as catchy as "Larry Lesser the Math Professor"?).
Professor Lesser enjoys parallels
between teaching and performing as he also shares his enthusiasm
with colleagues in inservice
workshops and conferences, from local to national, which have received
praise and media coverage (such as a feature story in 2002 in Australia's
largest-selling newspaper). Also, Lesser
performed a math song during a recent appearance (it's archived at www.webct.com;
you can skip to the 47th minute to hear the song) on "Math
Medley," a weekly hour-long talkradio show broadcast live on AM radio
in Arizona and New England and on Internet radio (www.renaissanceradio.com).
This makes Larry one of the very few who has had both "regular songs"
and a "math song" played on radio! Math-and-music is not the first
time his creative teaching has drawn attention: in 1993, a University
of Texas adult education course he designed and taught on the psychology
and probability underlying the then-new Texas Lottery generated coverage
by several Texas newspapers, the AP wire service and CNN Headline News.
Larry's interdisciplinary teaching aided his being selected to serve as
Gignilliat, Jr. Professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University.
COOL QUOTES ON M&M
FEEDBACK & PRESS PRESENTATIONS
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click HERE to visit Larry's professional home page