Irving Kaplansky’s “A Song about Pi”

Perhaps I should wait until mid-March to post this, but oh, well.

Irving “Kap” Kaplansky (1917–2006), the mathematician and former head of MSRI, was also a pianist and songwriter. In 1973 he brought all of these interests together to pen a song called “A Song about Pi.” The tune is was inspired by the digits of pi (C~1, D~2, etc.). You can read more about how he chose the structure for the song on Ivars Peterson’s MathTrek page. That page is also where I obtained the lyrics:

In all the bygone ages,
Philosophers and sages
Have meditated on the circle’s mysteries.
From Euclid to Pythagoras,
From Gauss to Anaxag’ras,
Their thoughts have filled the libr’ies bulging histories.
And yet there was elation
Throughout the whole Greek nation
When Archimedes made his mighty computation!
He said:


3 1 41 Oh (5) my (9), here’s (2) a (6) song (5) to (3) sing (5) about (8,9) pi (7).
Not a sigma or mu but a well-known Greek letter too.
You can have your alphas and the great phi-bates, and omega for a friend,
But that’s just what a circle doesn’t have–a beginning or an end.
3 1 4 1 5 9 is a ratio we don’t define;
Two pi times radii gives circumf’rence you can rely;
If you square the radius times the pi, you will get the circle’s space.
Here’s a song about pi, fit for a mathematician’s embrace.

Irving Kaplansky’s daughter Lucy is a folk singer. Here she is performing “A Song about Pi.” (If you want to skip straight to the song, go to 2:58.)


  1. Kristen says:

    Great song! Thanks for the link. :)

    Also, have you heard of Richard Byrne wrote about it on Free Tech 4 Teachers… it’s a clipping tool for youtube so you don’t have to just say “go to 2:58” – you can set it so the clip will automatically go there! I just tried it with this song and it’s pretty cool.


    1. Thanks, Kristen. Very cool. I just added a link to that spot using snipsnip. I kept the embedded one starting at 0 because I thought people might want to hear her speak about her father.

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