The musical alphabet and treble clef

The musical alphabet and the treble clef: Teaching note reading on the treble clef staff during your music lessons

Recently I had a colleague ask me how I practiced the musical alphabet and the treble clef with my students. I typed up some activities for her and thought I'd go ahead and post it to my blog.

First, here are some activities for helping students to get more comfortable with the musical alphabet (a special thank you to Joan Litman for many of these ideas!)

  • Up and down the alphabet: Have the notes of the musical alphabet written on the board vertically. Start with A, end with G, and then write A again. The teacher points to the letters going up and down and the students say those letters (i.e. A B C D C B C D E F G A G F E, etc.)
  • Ball game: Students say the letters of the musical alphabet as they pass a ball around the circle. When the teacher plays the hand drum, students switch the direction of the ball and the direction of the musical alphabet. For example, the students might say “A B C D,” and then the teacher plays the hand drum, and they’d switch the direction of the ball and say “C B A,” etc. In the next lesson, only the student who holds the ball says the letter.
  • You say a letter: I’d love to cite a source for this, but I learned it in my student teaching and haven’t seen it since. The chant goes like this:

After the word “behind,” the teacher says a letter, like “B,” and then the students say the letter before, the original letter, and then the letter afterward (A B C.) If the teacher says “O,” the class would respond “N O P” (while doing the motions pat/ clap/ snap.) After doing this a few times, students figure out what the teacher was doing, and then they offer other letters.

The next time students do this activity, we try it with the musical alphabet. So if a student offers “G,” students would respond with “F G A.” The students love this chant, and it’s a great way to get comfortable with the musical alphabet.

Here are some ideas for getting comfortable with the staff:

  • By the time my students are learning the note letters on the treble clef staff in my classroom, they’ve worked with the staff quite a bit, labeling solfa. So they should be able to find the lines and spaces well. When preparing note names with the treble clef staff, I first start finding the lines on the staff. Then I show the treble clef, explain it is sometimes called the G clef because it crosses the G line four times, and I tell them about silly sentences for the lines. Examples include:
    • Every Good Boy Does Fine
    • Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge
    • Elvis’ Guitar Broke Down Friday
    • Elephants Got Big Dirty Feet
    • Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips

The students find E, G, B, D, and F on the staff during that lesson.

  • In the next lesson, we review the lines and then find spaces. I explain that space notes rhyme with space—F A C E. Again, the students find those notes on the staff (I use the SMART board for this, but you could you any board, having students place notes in certain spaces.)
  • In the next lesson, students practice both lines and spaces. You could place notes on the staff and ask them which note it is, and/or tell students to note and have them place it on the staff.
  • “Mad Minute”: I use this as a formative assessment to see how students are doing with note names. They get 60 seconds to fill out as many note names as they can. Once I’ve done quite a bit of practice, I do a “mad minute” for a summative assessment.
  • SMART Board Files: There are plenty of great SMART notebook files to practice note letters! Check out the SMART exchange website for some great downloads (try searching “note names” or “treble clef.”)
  • Note name learning centers: I’ve enjoyed using learning centers in my room for the past two years with the learning centers, I had one group at the SMART board working with a note name file, another group playing a jumping game with a floor staff (first one to jump to B wins), another group figuring out how to play a song on the treble clef on their recorder, and another group figuring out how to play a song on the treble clef with barred instruments. During the jumping game, I pulled students who had trouble with the first mad minute so I could work with them individually. This was a great chance for an intervention! Then during the next music class, I did the second mad minute for a summative assessment.
  • I just bought the “Freddie the Frog” book, which I understand is a great book for treble clef practice. You can buy the first book in the series here: 

Any other ideas? Please post them below!

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