Posted by: Marie | May 28, 2011

(550) Music Lesson: Letters on the staff

Post #550

Music Lesson

I have decided to occasionally include posts on music and playing the piano and music theory . . . as in mini-educational blurbs. If you don’t care about this stuff, just skip over the posts. If you do, then read away . . .


As I have said before, whenever I get a new student, I review with the student (and/or the parent) the three foundational concepts – and the relationships among those three concepts – on which a person’s piano-playing education is built (see first diagram).

Here is the post that explains the relationship between the physical keys on the keyboard and letter names:

What’s your name?

And here is the post that explains the relationship between the physical key on the keyboard and the notes on the grand staff:

Notes and keys

So . . . today . . . let’s look at the third side of this triangle . . . the relationship between the letter names and the notes on the grand staff.

The most tried and true method for remembering the letter names involves mnemonics.

For the lines of the treble clef, one mnemonic that has been around forever is “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. You’ll notice the phrase applies to the notes starting from the bottom of the staff and moving upward.

Here are some other mnemonics for the line notes of the treble clef that I’ve ran across in my teaching:

Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge
Every Girl Buys Dessert First
Even George Bush Drives Fast

For the space notes of the treble clef, we can look to a single word rather than a phrase: F-A-C-E.

For the line notes of the bass clef, we can use one long-standing mnemonic: “Good Boys Do Fine Always”. However, it is too easy to confuse this phrase with the mnemonic used for the treble clef lines. So, here are some better alternatives:

Grizzly Bears Don’t Fly Airplanes
Good Bikes Don’t Fall Apart

For the bass clef spaces, a very common mnemonic is “All Cows Eat Grass”. I’ve also heard “All Cars Eat Gas”.

So, from the early posts on music, we know there are 21 notes living on the grand staff (grand staff = the bass clef plus the treble clef plus the window where the words go). However, the mnemonics discussed above only cover 18 of those notes. What about the other three notes?

Well, the three notes that live in the window where the words go don’t have the honor of being part of the mnemonics. So, a musician has to learn their names by rote, I guess. Sometimes I have students give them the names of friends, such as Bob, Charlie and Dawn.

One of the challenges of using mnemonics to identify notes on the grand staff is that it can be difficult to know which “G” or which “C” (for example) on the keyboard the note on the staff represents. The only way to address that challenge is for the musician to have a solid understanding of the spatial relationships between the notes on the staff and the keys on the keyboard.

So . . . that’s all for today!


  1. Have you ever come across the Kodaly (pronounced ‘cod-eye’) system of music education?

    • Hey, Evan –

      I had not heard of the Kodaly system . . . so, I went online and looked into it a bit. It sounds like most of the methodolgies I use incorporate parts of the Kodaly system (like using “ta” and “ti-ti”). However, one of the weakest areas in our generally used methods is ear training.

      Since I primarily play by ear, I feel a need to incorporate more ear training — but, I’ve struggled with finding a good way to do this. I think I could find some great ideas from the Kodaly system . . . thank you for calling my attention to it! I’m currently in the middle of updating my teaching plans for next fall, so your timing is awesome!

      – Marie

  2. A mnemonics I’ve used, since I was a kid is “Elvis’ Guitar Broke Down Friday” :)

    • Oh, what a fun one! Thank you for sharing it!

  3. This helped me to study for my choir test that I did really good on

    • Congrats!!

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