Musical Fugues

I have a very-beginning 7 year old student, “Pythagorus”, who loves thinking about numbers. Numbers and patterns get so exciting that they can eclipse actual music making during our half-hour lessons, so I need to think creatively to get us back on track whenever the distraction of quantifying occurs.

We just had a fantastic lesson observing meter (musical measurement) in one of his pieces. We counted every note value in each measure and discovered that each bar lasted 3 beats.

“Hmm,” he said, finger to chin like a classical Roman statue.

Then we looked at a series of 3-beat tied notes and multiplied them by 4 (the number of measures) and came up with the very cool digit, 12, which means you can tie 4 3-beat notes or 3 4-beat notes. And the “time signature” says 3 and 4…


To facilitate tactile playing, I’ve taken to using an unorthodox crutch with Pythagorus: we sing finger numbers so he can inscribe a number over each note. Then we check out the patterns in the shape of the melody he is learning to play. Music making from this perspective is fascinating. We think about mirror images and “up” and “down”. We divide, multiply, and add. We look for intervalic relationships. The pages of his method book are covered in spiderwebs of connecting lines.

Pythagorus has taught me how to just relax and say, “hmm” sometimes. There are so many hidden gems to discover when we take time to make cognitive connections.

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