Learning the Notes on the Staff

We've been noticing that the students are using the Treble and bass cleff signs as a crutch to figure out what the note names are, tracing the line back to the cleff to see what it is. In real music, the notes are isolated away from the cleffs. Would it actually be more helpful to just cut off the cleffs from the staff cards for these students? Some of the students that have all the staff cards memorized, still dont' recognize the same notes in music as well. Input? anonymous teacher

Hi _______,

Thank you for writing. Yours is an interesting observation, thus I have given your question some thought for a few days. I’ve observed that learning the names of the lines and spaces on the staff is a rather long absorption process. Long as in years for some students. This is different from learning note and rest values, musical symbols or even scales. Nothing else seems to take as much time. It takes lots of practice and musical experiences in a student’s life until this sinks in as thoroughly as it is for us teachers. In the beginning of study, I believe it is useful for the clefs to be near the note since the clef is what gives the lines and spaces significance. Rather than a crutch, I think the clefs are a useful orientation for the student. For the record, I also believe that seeing individual notes on the grand staff is better than on single clef staves.

I don’t know if you have the staff slate that’s in the Puppy Packet, but the second side is a staff without clefs. If you wanted your students to practice their notes without a clef reference, you could use that side. I am also preparing the melodic bingo cards for reissue and they don’t contain clefs. Another idea is to place a second card over the top of the grand staff cards to cover just the clefs if you wanted your students to practice that way.

Mastery of the staff also depends on how students are taught their notes. In your email you didn’t say if you follow my suggestions for learning all the grand staff C’s symmetrically and not moving on until they can named at sight. Then learning the D’s and B’s taking each one in turn and again, not moving on until they are easy to name quickly. And no counting from one note to figure out another one. These ideas come on a card with the staff slate pack. And then there’s the importance of relating the lines and spaces to the instrument. And learning how to read them rhythmically. Wow! It’s a lot!

Of course, these are only my observations and there may be other ways that are effective. I hope my answer has been helpful to you.


Hi Michiko -

Thank you for the thoughtful response. I used your method of teaching the 5 c's with my first group, but tried a slightly different approach with this group of students. I taught the way you suggest with my last group of students, but not with enough success (mostly because they weren't practicing and playing enough games at home and it was my first time trying it). It was taking too long to get through the notes before they could play music on the staff, so with the next group I decided to teach middle c, bass f and treble g as landmarks associated with the cleffs (as suggested by another teacher) and then add in the notes in between so they could be reading simple songs on the staff in middle c position while we worked then on the 5 c's and the rest. I don't know if that will now back fire on me.

We play songs by ear first and then move to the staff and it was feeling like this group really needed to get to the staff. This group of students has dedicated mothers practicing/playing games with them at home, so I'm pretty confident we'll be able to get the 5 c's approach with them this time. We'll see.

Some of my more dedicated students from my first group learned the 5 c's b & d's well and then added f & g's well, but then never solidified the rest and it was still shaky with actual sightreading even if they could name then on the staff cards. A gradual process, I'm sure. Now they are doing much better as we are refocusing on the note names again.

I'm glad to hear you are doing the bingo cards.

We had placed the staff cards across the piano music stand overlapping so the cleffs are hidden. When I referred to learning the note names without cleffs, I was reffering to a grand staff situation, just memorizing which line or space the notes are in.

Hi ________,

Your description sounds like my teaching. Trying this, trying that, observing the outcome and figuring out how it could be better. I like your idea of the grand staff cards across the music stand with the clefs hidden.

I believe in the landmarks of F and G also. Have you seen this video?

Besides helping their musicality, I also believe a lot of dictation and sight-singing games (including Daily Do) help the staff make sense to students. Of course, there's nothing like reading and playing actual music. Combined with interesting games for learning and diversity will help any student enjoy and learn more effectively.

Best wishes for continued success. michiko