Sixth Graders Learn Pythagorean Approach to Music

IMG_4320 (1) (1) Sixth grade students recently built their own single-stringed instruments, called monochords, to illustrate Greek philosopher Pythagoras’ theories on musical ratios. This integrated project, which builds upon students’ study of ancient Greek culture, requires students to combine knowledge from the Math, Visual Arts, Cultural History, and Music domains to construct their instruments and use them to become familiar with the sounds of ascending and descending musical intervals and to identify classic harmonies.

During his experiments, Pythagoras uncovered a significant relationship between harmonious notes; the length of the instrument’s string is inversely proportional to the frequencies of sound wave undulations. The frequency of the vibrations increases as the string becomes shorter; conversely, if the length is increased, then the frequency of the vibrations decreases. Pythagoras discovered that there are ratios for each musical interval: the octave (2:1), the perfect fourth (4:3), and the perfect fifth (3:2).

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Ross School parent and acclaimed furniture designer Nico Yektai served as a mentor on the project, preparing kits of building materials for each student and assisting them with assembly. “We had such a fantastic time, and as always, I am so proud of our talented, bright, and inquisitive sixth graders,” said Lower School music teacher Deanna Locascio.