If you’ve had piano lessons before, there’s a good chance your teacher taught you to read music with “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for line notes, and “F-A-C-E” for space notes. I used these mnemonic tools for a long time as a teacher, and with surprisingly limited success. The reality is, students who stop to consider the name of every note end up being very slow sight-readers. I should know––that’s how I read music for years! Here are some reasons why it doesn’t work well.
First, I’ve met some phenomenal sight-readers in my time: people who could play any unfamiliar music on sight, regardless of difficulty. When I asked them how often they were thinking of note names, they replied “ten percent of the time, at most.” They were so fluent because they’d learned to recognize patterns: a series of rising or falling notes, an Alberti Bass pattern, an arpeggio, or some other musical unit. When you learn to do this, you can take in several notes at once, without thinking of their names.
Second, Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE are arbitrary tools that don’t teach you the correct octave to play in. They give you only the letter name––say, F––but then, which F is it? Students who use these tools don’t end up correlating the staff with keyboard geography, and they often get the right letter in the wrong octave.
Third, with Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE, you only think forward on your alphabet, never backward. And so when the notes go down, you’re at a disadvantage because that’s when backward alphabet fluency is most important: G-F-E-D-C-B-A.
Next, these tools only work on the treble staff. For the bass staff, you have to learn a different mnemonic set: Good Boys Do Fine Always and All Cows Eat Grass, or something like that. My experience has shown that students routinely have trouble remembering which set to use, and it ends up being more trouble than it’s worth.
And finally, these mnemonic tools don’t teach you the most important thing about the grand staff: it’s symmetrical. Middle C is like the surface of a lake. Everything on the treble staff is the trees and mountains, and everything on the bass staff is the reflection in the lake. In my video lessons, I’ll teach you a handful of guide notes that are symmetrical around middle C. They’re easy to remember, and point you to the right octave on the keyboard. This way you’ll clearly translate what’s on the staff to where you are on the keyboard, and get it right every time.
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