“Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Yes, it’s a useful mnemonic that describes the line notes in the treble clef, but is it really the best way to memorize notes in the treble clef? I, and others, think not. I would like to share 3 methods to help speed up the memorization process – one of them I am sure you have never heard of.
Method 1 is easy to learn, but slows you down in the long run.
Method 2 is hard to learn, but efficient in the long run.
Method 3 is a new system (that I made up:) that is both easy to learn and efficient in the long run.
Notes in the Treble Clef
Before going over memorization techniques, let’s clarify the notes of the treble clef.
The treble clef is a series of 5 lines, the bottom line is an E. As you move up to the next space, you move up in the alphabet one note.
The pattern of line-space-line-space continues even below and above the staff. You can use ledger lines to indicate this. For example, we use a ledger line to indicate the “C” below the staff.
Related: learn how to draw a treble clef here.
Method 1: Use Mnemonics to Memorize the Treble Clef
So what is that saying to remember the lines on the treble clef?
For the lines (from bottom to top):
- E G B D F: Every Good Boy Does Fine
For the spaces (from bottom to top):
- F A C E
The Problem with Mnemonics
Mnemonics are useful shortcuts that can help with memorization.
The main problem with mnemonics is that they aren’t great for instantaneous recall.
When you read piano notes, you need to know what note you are playing immediately. As I point out in my article on memorizing piano notes, “mnemonics can get in the way, because you have to go through the process of reciting the mnemonic each time you want to play a note.”
For example, to identify the 2nd to top line on the staff, you’ll recite 4 words – Every Good Boy Does – to figure it out. That’s cumbersome.
So what’s the alternative? Meet the landmark system.
Method 2: Use The Landmark System to Remember the Treble Clef
In recent years I’ve seen more about a system known as “the landmark system.”
The landmark system attempts to solve the problem of mnemonics by committing certain notes to memory. These notes are landmarks that you can use to find the other notes.
Here is an overview:
- Landmark 1: C below the treble clef (because everyone knows middle C 🙂
- Landmark 2: G on the second line up. It is the note that the treble clef symbol swirls around.
- Landmark 3: C on the third space up. Remember this because it is just above the middle line.
- Landmark 4: G above the staff. Remember this because it is the very first space above the staff.
- Landmark 5: C two ledger lines above the staff. (I don’t have any crafty memorization trick.)
I first heard about the landmark system after watching a video by Rob from “Musicians Inspired.” He does an excellent job explaining the system.
There are several benefits of this system.
- The system covers notes from the C below the staff to the C above it (not just the notes directly on the staff like with the mnemonics)
- The system forces memorization based off of position – not off of an arbitrary mnemonic.
- Most importantly, any note on the staff is at most 2 notes away from a landmark note. For example, E at the bottom of the treble clef is two notes away from the C below it or the G above it. Compare this to using the Mnemonic system to find F at the top of the staff. That takes 5 steps to recite every word in the mnemonic.
There is a downside to the landmark system. The landmarks themselves aren’t all that intuitive… Time for our third method.
Method 3: Use a Hybrid System to Learn the Treble Clef
Is there a way to capture the benefits of the mnemonic system and the benefits of the landmark system all in one shot?
I think so.
The mnemonic system is easy to learn, but clunky in practice, while the landmark system is hard to learn, but efficient in practice (my opinions).
Here is my stab at a hybrid system that is both easy to learn and efficient in practice.
Our primary landmarks are E B and F.
- Landmark 1: E, the bottom line of the treble clef. Mnemonic – “edge” because it is the bottom “edge” of the clef.
- Landmark 2: B, the middle line of the treble clef. Mnemonic – “between” because this line is “between” all other lines of the clef.
- Landmark 3: F, the top line of the treble clef. Mnemonic – “flying” because it is the top line so it is “flying” above the rest.
Notice that all the mnemonics are not arbitrary phrases. Rather they are specifically related to the position on the treble clef. This makes them quicker to use. For example, if I try to figure out the middle line, I simply think “Between” instead of “Every Good Boy” – that’s less mental gymnastics.
We can create some more mnemonics and landmarks like this.
- F, the bottom space. Mnemonic – “fire.” Think of the lines as “logs,” you’d start the fire on top of the bottom log/line.
- G, second line from bottom. Mnemonic – “gasoline.” You’d put gasoline on your fire to make it burn.
And some final landmark/mnemonics – I’ll explain three at once. Think of the high C, D, and E as a Cat, Dog, and Elephant.
The cat is smallest and therefore lowest on the staff; the dog is medium sized, and so is higher on the staff than the cat; and the elephant is the biggest and therefore highest on the staff.
To help you out more the dog is on a leash. You can think of the “leash” as the line – the d note line that is. The cat and the elephant are not on a leash which is why they are space notes.
So there you have it. A hybrid landmark/mnemonic system. Maybe it’s a little funky, but I think it is both easy to learn and efficient in the long run.
There are three methods to learn the notes of the treble clef. The mnemonic system uses phrases like “FACE” and “Every Good Boy Does Fine” to remind you of the treble clef notes. It is easy to learn but can be inefficient in the long run.
The landmark system establishes some landmarks to base all the other notes of the staff around. It is harder to learn, but potentially more efficient in the long run.
The hybrid system creates mnemonics for specific landmark notes. Hopefully it is both easy for you to learn and efficient in the long run.