If You Give a Bird a Guitar…

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

If You Give a Bird a Guitar…

January 29, 2019

Never mind giving a pig a pancake — what happens when you give a bunch of live birds a set of guitars? You get some pretty wild-sounding music. At the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, 70 zebra finches were put in a big open room with 14 guitars. Every time their little claws stepped on a string, they played musical notes. Of course, the “song” they made was a little wacky: the birds were busy chasing birdseed, or worms, or each other. But feel free to try to sing along!

Wee ones: A guitar’s 6 strings play the notes E, A, D, G, B and E. Can you remember those notes and say them back? See if you can remember the order again!

Little kids: If each of a bird’s 2 feet lands on a different guitar string, how many of the guitar’s 6 strings haven’t been touched yet?  Bonus: What’s the greatest number of strings 8 birds can play at once if they all land on different guitars?

Big kids: If there are 14 6-string guitars, how many possible guitar strings are there for birds to land on?  Bonus: If the 70 birds divide up evenly among the 14 guitars, how many birds have to share each guitar?

The sky’s the limit: If a bird’s 2 feet can land on any 2 strings, how many different pairs of notes can a bird play when it lands on a guitar? (Assume the 2 feet don’t land on the same string.)












Wee ones: E, A, D, G, B, E…see if you can remember that sequence!

Little kids: 4 strings.  Bonus: 16 strings.

Big kids: 84 guitar strings.  Bonus: 5 birds per guitar.

The sky’s the limit: 15 pairs. If we name the strings ABCDEF, the first foot can land on A, leaving 5 strings for the other foot, giving us AB, AC, AD, AE, AF. Then the first foot could land on the 2nd string, leaving just 4 choices for the other foot — BC, BD, BE, BF — because we already counted AB. If the first foot lands on C, we get 3 more pairs, and so on, until we have 5+4+3+2+1 = 15 pairs.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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