Updated: May 24, 2022
Teaching children to read music can be a joy or a challenge. The approach to this is usually determined by the age of the child, and some people prefer to teach younger children by ear before reading music. I love to teach note reading from the start, as it empowers children to explore music themselves. So here are some of my ideas for teaching note reading in the treble clef.
How do you teach lines and spaces?
Before you teach the names of notes, it’s important to first teach the difference between line and space notes. This step is sometimes overlooked, but it’s crucial as it can be quite confusing for young children. We often refer to notes as being “on lines”, but if we think about how children learn to write words, they write “on lines”, with the bottom of most letters touching the line. So if we tell them a note is “on” a line, they may expect to see the bottom of the note touching the line, i.e. in a space! It’s no surprise then that some children find it confusing to identify a note “on” a line. I find saying that a line note is “AROUND” a line is easier for them to follow and helps them get the idea of drawing the note head circle around the line, that is, both above and below the line.
How do you remember treble clef note names?
There are several ways to teach the names of the notes:
1. Alphabetically – if using this approach, you usually start with G (the treble clef is also known as the G clef) and then help students work out one note above or below by following the music alphabet letters up or down. Some teachers find it better to start with the second space A, and then move upwards, so students can move forwards through the alphabet. This method is also very useful for naming notes above or below the staff.
2. Colour coded notes – some methods assign a colour to each note, for example the Boomwhacker colours. This can help some children learn the names of the notes more easily, but it can sometimes lead to a dependence on the colours to read music, and many children can manage without the addition of colours.
3. Mnemonics – many teachers enjoy using mnemonics and rhyming words to teach the treble clef note names. The word used most often for the treble clef space notes is FACE, because it rhymes with space. Of the many mnemonic options for the line notes, Every Good Boy Does Fine is very popular because the last word “Fine” rhymes with “line.”
Some other mnemonics for the treble clef lines are:
Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit
Every Great Burger Deserves Fries
Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips
Every Good Boxer Does Fight
Evil Gummy Bears Drive Fast
Every Good Bee Deserves Flowers
Every Girl Buys Designer Fashion
Every Good Butler Dusts Furniture
I offer my students a choice of which one they’d like to use, and sometimes ask them to come up with their own mnemonics (individually or in groups). A fun video to watch to for this is Every Good Boy Does Fine - MusicK8.com which will give your students plenty of inspiration!
Games and play!
I find the two best ways to reinforce treble clef notes are to play lots of note naming games, and to play the notes on instruments. Many teachers like to use worksheets and find that written exercises can be helpful for revising notes. I prefer to use games and performance as I find not only are these more fun, they also seem to have better learning outcomes.
If you are teaching a treble instrument you will of course use the notes the student is able to play on their instrument, which may mean learning the note names over a number of lessons. In the classroom, xylophones work well as the students can see the letter names, or recorders are also good. Maybe first give them a very simple rhythm pattern to play on one note only, then a pattern to play on another note, before trying to mix the note names.
A fun game to use in the classroom is Lucky Dip - place large flash cards around the room with one staff note per card. Students then draw out letter name cards (A, B, C...) from a bag and walk to the flash card for their note name. After all have had a turn, ask students to move to the centre of the room, swap their card with another person and then go to the flash card for that new note. This can also be played in teams.
Note Zap is great in studio lessons and involves giving the students a line with 10 treble clef notes and timing how many seconds it takes them to name the notes, then to play the notes. They take the music home to practise and are quite keen to see if they can beat their time in the next lesson!
Music Card Games for Treble Clef
Whilst there are many great apps available, such as Flashnote Derby and Note Rush, my students also really love playing card games. In Domino Treble Clef you match the note letter name with the correct staff notation, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to play a wild card! This music card game covers the lines and spaces of the treble clef and works well with groups.
Domino Fingering is perfect for instrumental lessons and comes in lots of versions – treble clef ones include Violin, Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet and Piano. The game is played like dominos and students match a fingering picture with the correct note letter name, and/or the correct staff notation.
My approach to teaching treble clef notes
I start with identifying space notes first, followed by naming the space notes and doing activities JUST with space notes for a couple of lessons. This makes it much easier for students to then see that the line notes are sitting around a line, not on a line. After I have done space and line note naming activities for a few lessons each, I then mix space and line notes, using lots of games.
Lastly, I show the students a scale on the staff so they can see the alphabetical relationship of notes. I introduce notes above/below the staff when the line and space notes are secure, and this is where the alphabetical method is especially helpful. Above all, I try to translate the written note immediately to an instrument if possible; in the classroom to tuned percussion/recorders, or in the studio to whichever instrument the child is learning.
This progressive method of teaching treble clef note names has worked well for my students; I hope you have great success with this too!
Do you have other ways to teach treble clef notes? Feel free to put your success stories in the comments!