Learning note names on staff
Found in: Reading
Lynn S., Illinois
I’d appreciate your advice as I move two of my students into the conclusion of the Reading Notes program. At the end of the book, it mentions the importance of identifying note names. Does anyone revert to the easy way to remember notes on the staff: F-A-C-E and E-G-B-D-F just as a clue? If not, do you use flash cards so they can learn to identify note names quickly?
Ian M., Indiana
I don’t use FACE and EGBDF. If you show me flash cards, I’ll look for the C location points and figure out the note name from the interval – if it’s that important to you that I know the note names. Because it’s not that important to me.
Also, to me, that is decidedly NOT the easy way. My brain was very resistant to understanding those treble staff note names as described by those mnemonic devices. And it’s worth pointing out that FACE and EGBDF describes exactly and only the treble staff – and no notes outside of it. So to me, the “easy” way of doing it (and of teaching someone how to do it) is to use Neil’s method exclusively, because it wouldn’t make sense to use Neil’s method outside the treble staff but switch methods for notes on the treble staff. That would introduce an element of unnecessary complexity.
Finally, I think it might be a good idea for anyone who thinks of FACE and EGBDF as the “easy way” of reading music to take a step back and try to understand why you think of it as the easy way. I think that in many cases one will answer “because that’s how I learned” or “that’s how I did it first so it’s easy to me”. And of course, if you are a teacher – especially a student’s first teacher – what you are teaching them as the main method MUST be presented as the easy way. A- because it is, and B- because if you don’t, there will be this perception that you are holding back on something easy and instead presenting something more difficult. And that’s going to get in the way of your students trusting you and the method.
I don’t even think that teaching sight reading is made better by using those mnemonics. If I can make an analogy, think of the way you (or if it’s been too long, the way your students) learned which notes on the piano keyboard were called which name. In Simply Music, we might mention that it’s letters of the alphabet up to G and repeat, but we don’t say “This note is A. Everyone repeat after me: A!”. Students just learn by interpolation: we learn C, and then blues chords F and G, and then Honey Dew brings in A and D, and from there we’ve really done most of the work. Students learn the white notes in the context of the other stuff we’re teaching.
Similarly, you don’t have to teach “this middle line in the treble staff is B”. You give them the C locations, and then the intervals up through 5ths, and the more they do it, the more they get it.
Most importantly to me for sight reading is that I see what Neil has laid out as much more similar to reading words. My eye progresses from left to right much more smoothly, which makes it much more like reading than trying to understand every note individually. Of course, this is my experience, and your experience almost certainly differs.
Gabrielle K., Iowa
I can say that as an advanced pianist, those mnemonics now mean nothing to me, and I am looking for intervals when deciphering a piece anyway.
Brenda D., Colorado
I love having an easier, more symmetrical way of learning the staff. I am very happy to get rid of FACE etc. I never teach them to my students.
Cate R., Australia
Once they know their locating C, I always ask what note is below? What note is above? Now they have B and D. I look at 3rds. A is a 3rd below, E is a 3rd above. I am always making them think, think, think. I look at certain staff indicators like the F line in between the 2 dots in the bass clef, or the pointer to G in the treble clef. Where is the locating C in comparison?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Actually you really shouldn’t teach it that way – it’s not part of the SM curriculum for all the reasons Ian mentioned. To get the best results, you have to be willing to trust the process as much as we ask our students to, and let go of currently accepted ways of thinking that have been around for so long.
Karen K., Oregon
I think the note name and location are picked up organically the more they do it. I teach the locations of the C with intervals, plus basic CFG chords keep them grounded and they pick up note names really fast (but not necessarily where they’re located by octave on the keyboard, especially if they’re playing a short keyboard at home).
Julia B., Canada
Using note name reading would be like sounding out every word. They do begin to develop other location points besides C in a natural way the more they read, though.