Fraction Rhythms – Integration, Collaboration and JOY!

Today was an example of integration and collaboration at its best!

Fraction pieces (4)Every Tuesday and Wednesday the music teacher, at my school (and my mentee and friend, Johanna) comes into my classroom for a 30 minute intervention period to assist with whatever we are doing in class.  It is usually math.  Often she wanders the room and helps students in need, or I ask her to take a small group and work on necessary math skills.  However, today was different.

Today she walked in on our introductory lesson on fractions.  The students had plastic fraction bars in their desks and we were discussing everything from unit fractions, to what makes a half, to why a larger denominator means a smaller fraction piece.  The kids were enjoying working with the manipulatives!

I made a few comments about the correlation between fractions and music notes, but no one was really making the connection.  (Except, of course Johanna!)  So I decided to give things a whirl.  I asked the kids to put away the 12ths, the 10ths, and the 6ths.  They looked confused, but continued on.  I asked them to put away the 5ths and 3rds and then asked them to discuss what they had left.  They talked with their elbow buddies about the patterns they saw, but didn’t connect it to music.

And then I mentioned quarter notes and eighth notes. A few lights went on.  Johanna reminded the class that the quarter is a ta and the eighth is a ti-ti.  The magic was about to start. I went over to one students desk, asked the kids to surround me and arranged a row of his fraction pieces:

fractions11/4, 1/4, 1/8, 1/8, 1/4 and started to chant: ta, ta, ti-ti, ta.

The kids were amazed. (It was actually quite funny.)  I barely had to ask the, to join me. We chanted.

Then I took the other fraction pieces and created a second line.

1/8, 1/8, 1/8, 1/8, 1/4, 1/8, 1/8 ; ti-ti, ti-ti, ta, ti-ti

The students gleefully chanted out the rhythm.

It was now Johanna’s turn.  She started to arrange fraction pieces on another student’s desk and invited the class to chant with her.  The kids were getting good!  But that wasn’t all for Johanna.  She wanted to introduce the half (ta-a) and whole (ta-a-a-a) pieces.


By this time, the kids were hooked.  It was time for Johanna to leave, but she was hooked too!  I asked the kids to go back to their seats and create their own fraction rhythms.  Joyfully (a word I wish I could always use to describe how my students work), the got to arranging rhythms.


This allowed for some great conversations about both math and music!

“You have a very complex rhythm here.  For us beginners, keep 1/8 pieces in pairs.   I bet you’ve seen them in pairs all the time…”Fraction pieces (2)

“Try to have all your lines of fraction rhythms all equal to a whole…”

Fraction pieces (3)

Before it was time to clean up, Johanna and I picked one student to lead the class chanting their rhythm.  Everyone wanted a turn, but it was time to move on to literacy.  Promising them we would do more tomorrow, I had to end the lesson.   It was the ultimate in leaving them wanting more!

I write quite a bit about seizing the moment and how you have to find the freedom to instruct the way you know is right within the structure of your curriculum.  I speak of collaborating with arts teachers and truly integrating content areas with integrity.  That’s what happened today.  Today this teacher felt inspired and inspiring all at once!

And it felt damn good.


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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One Comments

  1. mary krikorian says:

    This is one of my favorite lessons! When integration of music and math come together…it makes so much wonderful sense. There is nothing like the look on a kid’s face when he/she finally “gets it”! I find it’s a break through for many.
    It is such a revelation for some when the correlation between Math & Music blend.
    The tactile piece of this lesson is essential for many learners, myself included.
    Another one of my successful lessons similar to this is using four chairs in the front of the room and children to represent the notes and rests. They’d hold cards with a quarter note (which is felt by one sitter and the chant “ta”) or a quarter rest. The entire class would chant out the rhythm. When the concept of 4/4 time is established then it’s time to move on to three quarter note triplets, for instance. Three children sitting on the chair or behind it….and so

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