Overview: In this STEAM lesson, students explore the concept of pattern rules in math as a connection with the 12 Bar Blues structure in music.
Grades: 4-6 | Content Areas: Math and Music
When it comes to arts integration and STEAM, one of the most natural connections in the world is between math and music. Given that musical notes are, in their simplest form, a visual representation of mathematics, this isn’t really a surprise. And as a music educator by trade, I have found it fairly easy to weave these concepts together. Except for one piece: The Blues.
Over the years, I have struggled with figuring out a way to create a lesson that connect music and math through the structure of the 12-Bar Blues. I think it’s because the minute I try to introduce the concept of the Blues outside of a music class, teachers get nervous. Plus, at the heart of the Blues is improvisation within a frame. That alone is enough to make any teacher think long and hard before taking a chance and using this in the classroom.
But today I’m so happy to share with you a STEAM lesson that makes integrating the Blues and Math both meaningful and practical. By connecting the Blues through the idea of patterns and rules in Math, we provide a solid structure on which to offer the chance to improvise.
In this lesson, students are learning about the chords and patterns used in the 12-Bar Blues, as well as how rules provide different kinds of patterns in math. They then create a 12-Bar Blues composition using the mathematical patterns and rules they identified during the lesson. Essentially, they are breathing musical interpretation and sound into the numbers and patterns they identify.
If possible, try to find a way for students to play their compositions using actual instruments. There’s just nothing like the way a piece of music comes to life with an instrument in a child’s hands. But, if that’s not feasible, there are some digital options provided in the lesson that will allow you students to hear their 12-Bar Blues Rules compositions on the guitar.
If you need a bit more detail for this lesson, definitely check out our unit, Mandalas Music and Math. The unit takes this lesson and expands it through math and visual art in much more detail, and contains all of the printables, standards and assessments you’ll need.
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.