Mnemonic Devices for Remembering Grand Staff Notes & Other Things

World Piano Pedagogy Convention Notes

Notes by Brent Hugh
Assistant Professor of Piano
Missouri Western State College Department of Music

These notes are part of our Piano Pedagogy curriculum.

You might take a moment to find out more about the Keyboard Studies program at MWSC,
or visit our online message board about learning and teaching piano.

A variety of useful mnemonic devices (memory aids) are listed. The mnemonic devices help the student remember basic musical concepts (notes on bass and treble clefs, order of sharps and flats in a key signature, and so on) during the early stages of learning.

All mnemonic devices are "crutches". In the beginning, they give the student a big leg up and they can save you hours of frustration. As you drill the material over a period of months and years, the need for the mnemonic device fades.

Lines & Spaces

Treble Clef Lines (EGBDF)

Every Good Boy Does Fine

*Every Good Bird Does Fly

Treble Clef Spaces (FACE)


Bass Clef Lines (GBDFA)

Good Boys Do Fine Always (easy to confuse with "Every Good Boy . . . ")

*Great Big Dogs Fight Animals

Bass Clef Spaces (ACEG)

All Cars Eat Gas

*All Cows Eat Grass

Amy Carter Eats Garbage

All Clintons Eat Goobers

*You can remember that BIRDS and FACES are UP HIGH (Treble Clef).

DOGS and COWS stay down LOW on the ground (Bass Clef).

Invent Your Own Sayings

You can make up your own sayings for lines and spaces (i.e., if you have a student named "Ellen Goodman", use Ellen Goodman Bought Duck Feathers). The student will remember it better if it involves something about him or her, or is slightly kooky or offbeat, or the student has helped invent the mnemonic.

ACE & Gibbityef

First learn landmark notes Low C, Low F, Bass C, Bass F, Middle C, Treble G, Treble C, High G, High C. Then mnemonics ACE and Gibbityef (GBDF) connect up with these landmarks and cover the entire grand staff, including inner and outer leger lines. Takes some work to show student how it all fits together.

Sharps & Flats

Sharps--if you sit on something "sharp" (a tack) you jump UP. The sharp sign looks like a tic-tac-toe (and tacks are sharp)

Flats--if your tire gets a flat, it goes DOWN. The flat sign looks like a flat tire sitting on the road (turned sidewise--use your imagination)

Order of Sharps and Flats in a Key Signature (also helpful for Circle of 5ths keys)

BEADGCF=buy your BEADs at Grand Central Fast

or BEADs are Good Cool Fun

FCGDAEB=Fat Cows Go Down And Eat Buttercups

You can also show students how BEADGCF and FCGDAEB are strings of 4ths/5ths (going up/down). However, most young students can't calculate 4ths or 5ths quickly enough for this to be of practical use. The purpose of a mnemonic device is to help the student remember the item quickly and reliably. It might be years before a student can reliably and quickly calculate a string of six 4ths. The same student will be able to learn "Fat Cows Go Down and Eat Buttercups" in a few seconds.

"Guidonian Hand"

Five fingers of each hand = five notes of each staff. Show student how 10 fingers (turned sidewise to look like 10 lines of Grand Staff) can transfer directly down to the keyboard where the student can see exactly which notes correspond to the 10 lines on the Grand Staff. Teacher can do this if student can't reach the necessary GBDFA and EGBDF stretches.

Seeing this "Guidonian Hand" demonstration helps student make the connection between shape of staff and notes on the keyboard.

Giant Grand Staff

Make a Grand Staff on posterboard with lines/spaces the right size to exactly match up with piano keys when turned sidewise. As with "Guidonian Hand", this helps kids catch correlation between "up and down" on Grand Staff and "up and down" on the keyboard (many miss this obvious correlation until you hit them over the head with it several times).

Giant Staff Drawn on Floor Or Sidewalk

Students can move large circles around to make different notes/intervals, or they can move themselves to stand on different notes or make different intervals/chords. Some students can understand when they feel the concepts come to life through big, physical movements, when no other way makes sense. Also, giant staves are great for games.