Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuneful Tuesday: All I Know about Math and Science I Learned from Songs

Well, that’s not quite true. But it did occur to me that there are some fun songs dealing with math and science, two subjects about which I actually know fairly little. I’d be happy to hear suggestions about some more songs in this vein.

As young teenagers, my friends and I often listened to Tom Lehrer records. My friend The Decorator’s claim to fame was that Lehrer had been her father’s math TA at Harvard. (In the second clip, Lehrer speaks amusingly about his job.) He must have been a good instructor, since said father had a successful banking career. The first Tom Lehrer song, however, deals with chemistry, in fact, the Periodic Table. (Click on link to go to YouTube.)

Tom Lehrer: The Elements

I actually did study a form of New Math, the subject of the next song. In 9th grade, we learned algebra from Mr. Spencer and the SMSG (School Mathematics Study Group) from Yale. (Yes, kids, even though we were so much smarter in other ways, we didn’t get algebra till 9th grade.) In 10th grade, it was geometry from Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, with Mr. Swett. But in 11th grade I was in a different school and had a “normal” Algebra II text, and Mr. Reisinger, who came from Pocatello, Idaho to teach in Germany. My experience with college math is one I would rather not discuss.  Here’s Lehrer on

New Math

Back to chemistry, here is a great song about what happens when two elements combine. I believe the late Kate McGarrigle wrote this song, and sings it here.


I couldn’t think of any songs about biology or physics or geology, but there are two fine songs about astronomy.  Why Does the Sun Shine? was written by Tom Glazer (who also wrote On Top of Spaghetti). This rather better-known recording is by They Might Be Giants, who have also issued an update song with more current scientific information, The Sun Is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma.  And now for something completely different (well, not that different really) -- The Galaxy Song  by Eric Idle of Monty Python, but done here with some fine scientific photos by Dave Hardy and Colin Farrow (about whom I know nothing else.)  I hope someone enjoys this Tuneful Tuesday.

1 comment:

Sisterfilms said...

Yay! I like all these songs, but especially New Math, which reminds me of how I felt about math before I got into integrated math. I remember thinking, "Well, why didn't they just say so in the first place!?"
...and They Might Be Giants is always at the top of my list for anything!