Songs to Remember Math
April 14, 2004 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I've recently been asking people how they learned the quadratic equation (self link). A large percentage of people appear to have learned it to the tune of a familiar melody. I've heard from people who learned it to all sorts of different tunes, including Pop Goes the Weasel, God Rest ye Merry gentlemen, and various University fight songs (UofM and Notre Dame so far...) How about you? Did you learn it with music? What song? [Excuse the self link - I genuinely just want to know if there are other variations, this isn't a sad plea for traffic.]
posted by adamkempa to Education (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No song here, just the actual equation.
Never did go in for those fancy mnemonics.
posted by signal at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2004

Not a song, but my old math teacher told us it was the midnight formula, as in, if he called us in the middle of the night and asked us what it was, we'd better know.

And that's the only thing I remember about quadratic equations.
posted by loquax at 1:10 PM on April 14, 2004

Same as signal.
posted by thebabelfish at 1:10 PM on April 14, 2004

I student taught Mathematics for a few months. We use "Row, Row, Row Your Boat":

"Negative b, plus-or-minus, square root of b squared
minus 4ac, all over 2a"

For me, though.... I learned how to derive it, I didn't have to remember it. This is like most things in Math... remember the things you use frequently, remember how to derive the rest.

(Do not do that however, say, the GRE or other timed tests. Memorize everything, learn as many rote shortcuts and mnemonic devices as possible. The test rewards this, and everybody knows that, the idea is to see how well you can study to the test.)
posted by weston at 1:14 PM on April 14, 2004

I've never even heard of using song to memorize an equation, but then I never did go in for those fancy mnemonics. Thanks for putting such an odd notion into my head.

Mnemonic devices make no sense to me -- you have to remember the mnemonic itself ("every good boy...") and the decoding method (I have no idea what "every good boy..." decodes to)! Easier just to remember stuff concretely without the abstraction.
posted by majick at 1:18 PM on April 14, 2004

I can finally use this bit of knowledge that I have retained for all these years. For my class in the late 1980's, in the suburbs of Minnesota's Twin Cities, it was "Pop Goes The Weasel." It's one of the only things I remember from math. "X is equal to negative B / plus or minus the square root / of b-squared minus 4ac / all! over 2! a!"
posted by kittyb at 1:19 PM on April 14, 2004

The only similar memory trick I ever used was for the quotient rule of differentiation: "low D-high less high D-low, draw the line and down below, the denominator squared will go". Usually I don't have much patience for such devices, but I have to admit that one has really stuck with me.
posted by Galvatron at 1:43 PM on April 14, 2004

I just knew it from use, no mnemonics for me. It faded away over time but I needed it recently so I had to derive it since I wasn't close to any books or the internet. Poking the guy next to me and asking "Hey, do you know the quadratic equation?" seemed a little too odd.
posted by substrate at 1:53 PM on April 14, 2004

We had to memorize it under pain of ridicule. And no, no singing was involved.
posted by bshort at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2004

We were taught how to derive it from ax^2 + bx + c = 0. And I can still do it, man. No mnemonics.
posted by kenko at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2004

I just learned the equation without a tune. I remember a physics teacher who had a screen printed t-shirt with the equation on it.

Galvatron - I learned the quotient differentiation rule as "low d-high minus high d-low over lowlow."

Anyone for SOHCAHTOA?
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 2:18 PM on April 14, 2004

My algebra teacher just had us learn to say it as fast as possible: "xequalsnegativebplusorminusthesquarerootofbsquaredminusfouracallovertwoa". Apparently it worked, because I still remember it that way, twenty years later.
posted by xil at 2:36 PM on April 14, 2004

No song, no mnemonics. Although I'm capable of deriving the equation, I know the formula so I don't have to.

However, it's interesting Galvatron brings up differentiation of a quotient, as that's one that I can never remember directly but have to derive (beginning with a/b = ab-1) each time I need it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:19 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm another one who derived it as needed rather than memorize it. It was a math major thing (for me, at least).
posted by Zonker at 4:03 PM on April 14, 2004

I recently heard a couple people singing the quadratic equation to some tune I didn't quite recognize. I never did, as far as I know, we just memorized it, period. I'd also managed to completely forget its existence until that moment, which shows how useful its been to me in my life.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:14 PM on April 14, 2004

"Every Good Boy Does Fine" the way to remember the notes on the lines of the treble key in music. "F-A-C-E" took care of the spaces.

"All Cows Eat Grass" take care of the spaces in the bass clef. I don't remember the mnemomic for those lines.

And I don't ever remember being asked to remember a quadratic equation.
posted by konolia at 4:19 PM on April 14, 2004

I just learnt it through using it. Nothing fancy.
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:28 PM on April 14, 2004

I learned the Moh's Hardness Scales this way and still remember it "Texas Girls Can Fight And Other Queer Things Can Do." Talc, Gypsum, Calcite, Fluorite, Apatite, Orthoclase, Quartz, Topaz, Corumdum, Diamond.
posted by dhacker at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2004

konolia: Good Boys Do Fine Always


My personal favorite from second grade: A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream == "arithmetic"
posted by jmcmurry at 9:43 PM on April 14, 2004

I was in 3rd or 4th grade when I derived the quadratic equation. I'd not seen it before and I was sure I had just discovered one of the Secrets of the Universe. I was feeling cocky enough to show it off to my older sister and a couple of her friends and one of them said, "Dumbass, that's just the quadratic equation." They all then proceeded to sing some doggerel describing the equation to the tune of "Ballin' the Jack." The only thing I remember of the song is "You take your minus B..." -- the rest is lost in a red haze of embarrassment about my brilliant "discovery".
posted by joaquim at 9:50 PM on April 14, 2004

>We were taught how to derive it from ax^2 + bx + c = >0... No mnemonics.
Same here.

>you have to remember the mnemonic itself
I think a lot of mnemonics is the visual cue to layer on top of the intellectual concept, depth of processing through different sensory memories. Bedmas for the order of operations, you picture a bed, maybe. I break phone numbers down into hockey players' jersey numbers (Brodeur-Leetch-Sundin-Kovalev, say), so visual-familiar with numeric-arbitrary.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:53 PM on April 14, 2004

We sang it to the tune of Frère Jacques.
posted by Biscuit-Head at 10:19 PM on April 14, 2004

joaquim: You should've been proud, not embarrassed ;) I thought of how you calculate averages at about 6.
posted by abcde at 11:10 PM on April 14, 2004

From physics 1983, I remember the resistor colour code "black bears rape our young girls, but virgins get whipped. (Silly girls)". Never used it since, though. The quadratic equation I just learned. Never used it, since, either. What a waste of neurones; I always forget my wedding anniversary ....
posted by Pericles at 6:29 AM on April 15, 2004

My high school algebra teacher actually brought a guitar into class and used an original song to teach us the equation. One of my few positive memories from high school.
posted by Otis at 7:28 AM on April 15, 2004

Ah, I was made to memorzize integration by parts with the mnemonic UltraViolet VooDoo. That one has stuck just because integration by parts is such a pain.

(S U dV = UV S V dU)
posted by apathy0o0 at 9:36 AM on April 15, 2004

My high school algebra 2/precalc teacher (Mr. Arvantely, who ruled) taught it to the tune of jingle bells. The correlation:

jingle bells - negative b
jingle bells - plus or minus
jingle all the way - square root of b squared
oh what fun it is to ride - minus 4 a c
in a one horse open sleigh, hey! - all over 2 a!
posted by rorycberger at 2:23 PM on April 15, 2004

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