The most helpful information that the parents thought they knew was that you could learn the names of the lines and spaces on the musical staff by remembering some “sentences”.
Examples: the lines of the treble staff can be remembered by saying “Every Good Boy Does Fine” or “Elephants Get Big Dirty Feet”. The spaces by spelling the word F A C E.
The lines of the bass staff can be remembered by saying “Great Big Dogs Fight Animals and the the spaces of the bass staff can be remembered by saying “All Cars Eat Gas OR All Cows Eat Grass OR All Children Enjoy Games.
I mentioned to the group of parents that we jokingly suggest that any students who know those sentences should be sent to a hypnotist who can purge that information.
Why? Because using that old system to identify lines and spaces on a staff produces some unfortunate side effects (See below).
One parent was a physician. His comment was very insightful and instructional. He suggested, by pointing out the weaknesses in memorizing the well known sentences we had discovered “musical iatrogenics”.
Apparently the medical books describe iatrogenics as a situation where a cure or medicine is prescribed and while the procedure or medicine may solve the problem it at the same time creates some additional problems (side effects): a rash, liver problems, loss of hair, etc.
So learning the “sentences” may identify the lines and spaces but additional problems are also created.
What are the musical/pedagogical side effects?
(1) The sentences don’t easily transfer to a keyboard. The sentences do not specify which E or G or C on the keyboard is being identified.
(2) Students always repeat the entire sentence to find the top line or space in a staff. That makes the reference point for most lines and spaces much farther away than is necessary.
(3) Additional lines and spaces above and below each staff (ledger lines) don’t even have reference points except those that are in the internal part of the staff.
(4) The Treble Staff has different sentences than the Bass Staff. This requires the student to permanently be aware that the Treble Staff and the Bass Staff are two separate staves and that the only similarity is that each has five lines and four spaces and a different clef and different named lines and spaces.
The Landmark System
If you’re going to eliminate the above side effects, the better solution would require these elements:
• An awareness that the Treble and Bass staves are combined in piano music and they become one staff called a Grand or Great Staff. It now can be thought of as one staff that is entirely consistent with the piano keyboard. (It’s hard to evaluate which side effect is the most serious but forcing the player to deal with two unique staves (plural of staff) has to rank very high).
Some direct connection to a keyboard (or any other musical instrument).
Certain lines or spaces on the Grand Staff should be given identical names to certain keys on the keyboard.
• Reference points that help identify the lines and spaces should be close to the note that is being identified.
• The names of ledger lines and spaces should be as easy to locate and identify as the internal lines and spaces. (That supposedly safe territory around Middle C)
• The new system should be easy use.
We have created just such a program! It is called the MusicMaster™ Landmark System. This system is a better procedure that solves the problem of identifying the names of the lines and spaces on the staff WITHOUT causing the iatrogenics.
Check out our blog next week and we will show you how it works! We’ll also be introducing you to our latest product called “30 Lines and Spaces in 60 Minutes”. We’ll be giving away a limited amount of copies so spread the word.