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.
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.