Tips on memorizing the names of music notes

One of the first hurdles many new music students face when taking up the study of an instrument is dealing with how to memorize music notes. In the "old days" when I was a young piano student, teachers were still advocating the memorization of neumonic devices, such as "Every Good Boy Does Fine" and "FACE" to help remember the lines and spaces of the treble clef. Most teachers today no longer think that this is the best approach.

The reason for this is that these little tricks and memory devices work well in the beginning, but actually serve to delay the child from flat out memorizing the notes. In other words, the SAYINGS get memorized, but they are forever stuck using that saying to decipher the notes on the page. 

To look at it another way, look back to the first letter of this sentence and quickly think to yourself what letter it is. What told you that it was the letter "T"? Did you have to rely on some memory device to come up with the answer? No, it just LOOKS like a 'T'. That's the same kind of instant recognition that music students need to develop if are truly going to be proficient at reading music notes.

Instead, it is best to start out with just a small sampling of notes that we memorize COLD. For instance, I might start out with just Middle C and G in the treble clef. Using the music flashcard app Flashnote Derby, you can easily set this up by selecting just those two notes for inclusion in the game.


By limiting the focus to just two notes, any child can quickly memorize Middle C and G and thus have an established pair of "guide notes" they can use to aid them in further memorization. The next step might be adding the note immediately above Middle C and the note just below G. If students are fluent with their musical alphabets, both forwards and backwards, they can quickly tell you that the note right after C is D, and the note right before G is F. So we now set up Flashnote Derby to look like this and continue to play these drills at a progressively faster speed until the student can easily win each race.


By repeating this process in different locations on the staff, we can gradually work towards the goal of learning the names of music notes just as fast as we can rattle of the names of notes in the alphabet. Your teacher will have some good suggestions about which portions of the music staff that a student would most benefit from drilling. Just remember that while it may be true that different children are born with different levels of musical inclination, ALL children have the ability to learn and memorize the notes of the music staff. Don't let this be what holds them back.

© 2013 Luke D. Bartolomeo