When it comes to learning, a good mnemonic device always helps. Studies show that memory is enhanced when we apply catchy phrases to the drier, more complicated concepts we’re trying to learn. However, music is based off of patterns that make logical sense, and at MTMS, we believe in teaching the patterns as well as the mnemonic devices.
We learned “Every Good Boy Does Fine” as children in our schools and music lessons, and children are still learning it today. If you’ve forgotten what it means, here’s a reminder: The first letter of each word represents the pitches of the five lines on the treble staff (E, G, B, D, F). We also learned FACE (the spaces of the treble staff), “Good Boys Do Fine Always” (the lines of the bass staff, and really confusing because it’s so close to “Every Good Boy Does Fine”), and “All Cows Eat Grass” (or “All Cars Eat Gas,” the spaces of the bass staff.)
What I never understood is why teachers failed to point out the alphabetical order of the treble and bass staffs once you put the lines and spaces together. Here’s the treble staff, after combining lines and spaces:
Every (F) Good (A) Boy (C) Does (E) Fine
Armed with this pattern, could you guess what the space above the top line (Fine) would be? Any good guitar student already knows it’s (G), because E, F and G are the first three notes you learn on a guitar. But a piano, voice, saxophone or harmonica player should be able to figure it out, too.
Patterns permeate all aspects of music. Chord theory, scale theory, melodic and harmonic intervals, and rhythms all derive from patterns. Knowing and understanding the patterns not only make you a better singer and/or instrumentalist, but also are the fundamentals for learning improvisation, songwriting and composition, which – contrary to popular belief – can actually be learned. No, you are not born a songwriter or composer. You have to learn how to do it, and we can teach you.
Bring back the patterns. Mnemonic devices are great, but let’s not forget why the lines and spaces were defined that way in the first place.