Teaching music mnemonics to piano students might seem like an easy and helpful way for them to get to grips with the grand staff. But the truth is that mnemonics are probably hindering their progress more than helping.
If you’re still using music mnemonics in your studio, first of all, you won’t find any shame or blame here. Far too many teachers get railed at online for not knowing what they’re supposed to know or what others consider “obvious”.
There’ll be none of that on this blog. I take the view that we’re all learning, all the time, and that the best learning environment is open to curiosities and questions.
So, why don’t I use mnemonics in my studio? Let’s explore.
For more tips on developing confident music readers, you might also like the articles featured on my Music Theory page.
What’s wrong with music mnemonics?
Technically, I learned to read music using staff mnemonics or acronyms. Maybe you did, too.
But, technically-technically? I actually learned to read in spite of the mnemonic devices.
I can still remember figuring out particular bass clef notes using mnemonics for ntoes in my teens.
The reason that memory stands out in my mind is because I had mostly overcome mnemonics by that stage. I must have been reading without thinking about note names and mnemonics for me to notice when I did.
With me so far?
If that’s the case, we need to understand how I was reading the other notes on that page. And, probably, how you read most of the time.
We don’t do that because it would be impossible to do it quickly enough.
So unless you’re someone who very slowly decodes music using the note names and then commits them to memory in order to play without reading in real-time, then you are using intervals and patterns too.
Music mnemonics are the slowest of the slow
The problem with mnemonic devices for music, in particular, is that they’re the slowest method of figuring out a note name. To use a mnemonic you need to go through these steps:
- Select the correct mnemonic for this clef and line/space notes.
- Say the mnemonic to yourself while working up the stave.
- Think of the letter that starts the word you landed on.
- Find this note on your instrument.
This is extra cumbersome if you’re a child and can’t even spell the words quickly.
Note Names Don’t Matter
Even if mnemonics were a great way to remember note names, note names aren’t important anyway
There’s nothing special about calling 440hz “A”. In fact, many other countries will call it “la” and they’re getting along just fine.
It’s not that I don’t want my students to learn the note names. It’s just that it’s not our priority in the beginning.
I want my students to think in patterns right from the start, rather than going around the houses and eventually landing back at intervallic reading like most of us did.
How can we teach music reading without mnemonics?
If you’re on board right now but trying to find your sea legs with intervals, I go into detail about the basic stages of teaching intervallic music reading in this post.
You can also get full curricula inside Vibrant Music Teaching which will hold your hand while you learn to teach this way with step-by-step lesson plans.