Musi-Matics! Coining a Phrase that Links the Arts with Math Instruction

Karin L. Nolan, director of bands at three elementary schools in the Tucson (Arizona) Unified School District, loves math. However, she said her main passion has always been music.

Her new book, Musi-Matics: Music and Arts Integrated Math Enrichment Lessons, springs from her blended interests. She believes it will help teachers engage their students in simultaneous-learning mode while sparking their creativity. Nolan, who also teaches music education at the University of Arizona, said, “Teaching has to be relevant as well as enlightening for students.”


MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Education (RLE) copublish the book. The author answered some questions about Musi-Matics! for Music Educators Journal. If you are curious about where the phrase “musi-matics” came from, read on.


Karin L. Nolan

Tell me a little about your music education background. Was your initial interest in music or in math?
Although I love math, my main passion has always been music. By the end of high school, I had learned to play just about every instrument, so it was a no-brainer for me to decide to major in music education. I worked for a few years as a high school band coach. Then I worked at a preschool teaching music. After that, I volunteered as a teacher for middle school band and orchestra. For the last few years I have been primarily teaching elementary general music and band. I am also completing my doctorate in music education, so I have been teaching music education courses at the University of Arizona for three years. One of the courses I teach is elementary music education with an emphasis on music integration.

How did you get the idea to create music-and-arts-integrated math enrichment lessons?
My first elementary position was as a music and arts integration specialist with the Opening Minds through the Arts Program in Tucson Unified School District. Two studies have been conducted with this program demonstrating students’ increased achievement levels in the tested areas of the curriculum when they participated in music-integration classes. Upon leaving my position there to pursue graduate work, I was convinced of the power of music integration to engage these students in great music and arts lessons, while reinforcing other academic areas. My firsthand experience teaching these types of lessons, combined with research supporting the link between music and math, convinced me of the need to write these lessons.

Did you coin the phrase “musi-matics?”
I give full credit to my husband David for the title.

What do you believe are the benefits of having a child learn through games, movement, and music?
Arts integration allows teachers to engage many modes of learning simultaneously, include all students in a creative and safe environment, and–for a few moments–have students forget they are learning and just be in the moment of the activities. The arts in their own realm bring beauty and expression to life. This book was designed to bring some of that beauty and creativity into elementary classrooms.

You list your target audience as arts and music teachers, as well as kindergarten, first-and second-grade classroom teachers. Would those different kinds of teachers have different approaches to using your lesson plans?
Ideally, their approaches would be the same. In Musi-Matics! lessons are clearly detailed so that no music background is necessary, making these lessons accessible to all classroom and music teachers. The lessons are appropriate for a general classroom and a music room. One benefit classroom teachers may have is the extra time to delve into the extension activities included with each lesson.

Musi-Matics! has also successfully been used at the college level for elementary education and music education methods courses. This book guides teachers and future teachers through the lesson planning process and through arts-integration concepts. The final section of the book guides readers through the brainstorming and development process to create additional arts-integrated lesson plans.

Could you sum up your music teaching philosophy?
Music education means the opportunity to reach students through beauty and creativity. I often tell comrades that I have the best job in the world. Not only do I get the pleasure of sharing my passion and love of music with others, but I also get to work with some of the best and brightest – my students. Students enter my classroom with different talents and motivation, and it is my greatest achievement when I challenge myself as an educator to find what works for all students. I learn my greatest lessons from students and am always willing to modify my teaching repertoire in order to facilitate maximal learning.

Teaching has to be relevant and enlightening for students. I maintain extremely high standards for myself in all aspects of my life, and thus, I hold every student to the highest standards. I take in students at whatever level they come to me, and I feel it is my duty as a teacher to offer them the tools to make their education relevant and empowering.

I strive to be a strong motivator who expects my students’ best efforts. Through my lessons, I attempt to build, strengthen, and uncover paths in students’ networks of knowledge, and I guide students through learning utilizing the concepts of multiple intelligences, cooperative learning, and learner-centered education.

Are information retention levels high for these kinds of lesson plans?
I have found retention to be quite high in both directions: math and music. One misunderstood element of music-integration is the assumption that music-integration lessons detract from music for music’s sake. I do not find this to be true, however. I truly believe that integrative lessons reinforce music concepts and allow for musical skills to be retained at a higher level because teachers have strengthened neural networks in many parts of their students’ brains. By activating different parts of the brain and prior knowledge, retention of each subject is increased. That is why the more areas we integrate during one lesson, the higher the retention and understanding.

Why should teachers add this book to their classroom libraries?
I truly believe that all elementary classroom teachers and music specialists should use this book. My students love the lessons, and I am witnessing the benefits of combining music with math. This book guides elementary classroom or music teachers through the process of integrating arts and music into their daily curriculum.


Musi-Matics! contains 18 ready-to-use lesson plans that comprise over twenty hours of instruction time, taking a teacher through an entire year of arts-integrated math lessons. Not only are there 18 complete lesson plans with visuals and worksheets, there is also a section on how to develop more arts-integrated lesson plans. Throughout the entire book, pictures assist readers in visualizing the lesson. In addition to clear behavioral objectives, each lesson starts with objectives written with kid-friendly language, which teachers can display in the room.

Each creative lesson reinforces one key math concept, such as patterns, estimation, addition, and skip counting. Teachers can address both math and musical concepts through enjoyable techniques designed to enhance student mastery.

MENC members receive a 25 percent discount off the list price of $70 for the hardback version and $26.95 for the paperback edition.

For additional information on MENC books or to order, visit here.

Roz Fehr, March 11, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education