Sunday, June 5, 2011

Math lyrics -- Lehrer et al

Mathematicians with poetic tendency often use their word-talents to write song-lyrics rather than poems; a master of the song-writing art was/is Tom Lehrer.  As an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1940s,  Lehrer majored in mathematics; he is best known for songs he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s.  Here are Lehrer's lyrics for "The Derivative Song" -- written to be sung to the tune of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" (by Benton Overstreet, with original lyrics by Billy Higgins).

     The Derivative Song    by Tom Lehrer

     You take a function of x and you call it y,
     Take any x-nought that you care to try,
     You make a little change and call it delta x,
     The corresponding change in y is what you find nex',
     And then you take the quotient and now carefully
     Send delta x to zero, and I think you'll see
     That what the limit gives us, if our work all checks,
     Is what we call dy/dx,
     It's just dy/dx.
Other lyrics by Lehrer, including "There's a Delta for Every Epsilon" are available here -- and various videos of Lehrer performing his songs may be found, on YouTube for example,  using a search engine. This link leads to "New Math."
Peter Cameron recently helped to celebrate Bob Dylan's 70th birthday by pointing out a variety of mathematical imagery in Dylan's work.  See it here.

Three of my former colleagues (Bill Calhoun, Kevin Ferland, and Erik Wynters) in the Mathematical Sciences Department of Bloomsburg University have a band, "The Derivatives," and they have several math parodies, available at this site.

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