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WVU music students teach fractions through rhythm

WVU Music Outreach

The sound of music is, in its simplest form, the sound of fractions. Students in the West Virginia University School of Music showed Suncrest Elementary School fourth graders that correlation.

Erin Ellis, assistant professor of cello, had participated in an outreach program during her studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and knew the impact it had.

I immediately saw the benefits of this type of outreach, both for the music students and the community,” Ellis said. She then spoke with Mikylah McTeer, associate professor of violin, about starting a similar initiative at WVU. “Mikylah mentioned a request from her daughter’s fourth grade teacher for a music group to work with her students.”

Prometheus String Quartet

Ellis thought of the Prometheus String Quartet, a group of undergraduate students she coaches, for the task. Working together since August, the group has a solid foundation of chamber music, classical pieces that work well for a small audience, in their repertoire.

More and more, professional musicians are expected to speak before concerts, give educational presentations and be able to teach well,” Ellis said. “Musicians must be able to communicate clearly and connect meaningfully with the audience and this opportunity helped to develop these skills in our students. Ultimately, it’s about equipping our students to be successful as professionals.”

Olivia Boughton, Elijah Bui, Robert Leong and Yusef Ibrahim comprised the quartet that entertained and enlightened the Morgantown fourth graders. Going in, they knew they had to take a complicated art and simplify it.

We sat down with Dr. Ellis and brainstormed some different ways we could relate fractions to music while still engaging with the students,” said Boughton, a sophomore from Charleston studying viola. “The challenge was figuring out how to phrase the content we were trying to relay to the students in a very simple way.”

WVU music outreach

The group came up with three activities separated by performances to keep the children engaged. They were taught about the type of music notes, worked together to clap a rhythm of assorted notes, composed their own music that the quartet members then played and figured out which fraction of the quartet was playing during different segments of music.

“The fourth graders at Suncrest were an exceptional audience and their enthusiasm and engagement in activities really made our job easy,” said Bui, a junior from Inwood focusing in violin. “There is a whole world of music out there that many people, especially children, never realize exists, so it’s always exciting to share that and hope they take away something from it.”

students at Suncrest Elementary during WVU music outreach

According to Joanne Hines, principal at Suncrest Elementary School, the multidisciplinary lesson helped reinforce the school’s focus on STREAM – science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and math.

“Everyone concentrates on STEM, but we’ve added the arts and reading so that everything flows together like real-life learning does,” Hines said. “We think that’s very important for student development and for them to be wonderful, well-rounded young people.”