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New Math (song)

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"New Math"
Song by Tom Lehrer
from the album That Was the Year That Was
Songwriter(s)Tom Lehrer
Producer(s)Jimmy Hilliard

New Math is a 1965 song by American musician Tom Lehrer. Found on his album That Was the Year That Was, the song is a satire of the then-contemporary educational concept of New Math.


The song is composed in the key of C major in a 2/4 time signature.[2] It correctly describes the step-by-step process for subtracting 173 from 342 in decimal and then subtracting the numbers 1738 and 3428 having the same digits in octal.[3] The song features a spoken-word intro by Lehrer, followed by "piano played at a quick tempo and brisk lines".[4]


Lehrer, at the time a doctoral student of mathematics at Harvard University, used the song to satirize the then-new educational concept of New Math,[5] introduced in American schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an attempt to reform education of mathematics.[6] According to the book The New Math: A Political History, the song "purported to be a lesson for parents confused by recent changes in their children's arithmetic textbook".[6] The same book states that by the time of the song's release in 1965, the concept was at its peak in American education.[6]

Lehrer's song has been described as "well-informed and literate ... enjoyed by new math proponents and critics alike".[7] Historian Christopher J. Phillips writes that, by including this song among other songs of great political and social import on That Was the Year That Was, Lehrer "seamlessly—and accurately—placed the new math among the major events of the mid-twentieth-century United States".[8]


  1. ^ "That Was the Year That Was". AllMusic. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  2. ^ "'New Math' sheet music". MusicNotes.com. 19 May 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  3. ^ Peck, Robert W. (May 2014). "Mathematical music theory pedagogy and the 'New Math'". Journal of Mathematics and Music. 8 (2): 145–150. doi:10.1080/17459737.2014.927115. S2CID 121100963.
  4. ^ Frederick, Prince (29 November 2018). "Tom Lehrer gets the formula right". The Hindu. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  5. ^ "Tom Lehrer: a comical, musical, mathematical genius". The Irish Times. September 17, 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Christopher J. Phillips (2014). The New Math: A Political History. University of Chicago Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0226185019.
  7. ^ Roberts, David L.; Walmsley, Angela L. E. (2003). "The original new math: Storytelling versus history". The Mathematics Teacher. 96 (7): 468–473. doi:10.5951/MT.96.7.0468. JSTOR 20871396. ProQuest 204671152.
  8. ^ Phillips, C. J. (September 2014). "The New Math and Midcentury American Politics". Journal of American History. 101 (2): 454–479. doi:10.1093/jahist/jau371.