When I was eleven years old, my mother gave me a very interesting book to read entitled, The Memory Book, by Harry Lorraine and Jerry Lucas. I learned there are memory experts who have discovered ways of memorizing anything, including people’s names, faces, and even long lists of numbers, using mnemonics. (A mnemonic is a way of coding meaningless information so it becomes meaningful in your own mind.) One key element of using mnemonics is humor. Memory experts say that we tend to remember things better if they are funny, absurd, or grossly exaggerated.
Here’s how we can apply this principle to learning the names of the piano keys. Make each note come alive—to turn it into a “concrete” object-- and even better yet, turn it into a story! Here’s an example I borrowed from another piano teacher. Visualize the 2 black keys as a cage and the 3 black keys as a forest:
“Here is a cage. Inside this cage is a sleeping Dog. Sitting on the side of the cage is a Cat, who is trying to steal the dog’s dinner. The cat is hungry because he has no more food in his Empty bowl on the other side of the cage. A sneaky Fox sneaked out of the forest and stole the cat’s dinner! Next to the fox is a frightened Goat. The goat is tied to an Apple tree. Flying high above the apple tree is a Blackbird. The blackbird is too scared to land in case he is eaten by the hungry cat.”
For memorizing the lines and spaces, I likeusing “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” for the lines because fudge is more exciting to kids than doing fine. (The boy in the middle stands on the chair to reach up high to get the fudge.) For the spaces, F-A-C-E works well, but why leave off “D” and “G”? I use “Dirty FACE Gross” (dirty for “D”, FACE, then “G” for gross), and I draw a picture of a dirty face just to the right of the staff at the same height as the spaces.
One final note on mnemonics—if the student comes up with an idea that works well, use that! The best mnemonics are ones that come from your own imagination.