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Name that note

Teaching middle-schoolers the musical staff is easy with this primer on music literacy.

By Paul Bakeman, consulting educator

Introduce your child to music literacy by teaching him to recognize and draw the pitches on the lines and spaces of the treble staff.

What you'll need

  • One plastic plate
  • Any color roll of electrical tape
  • One dry-erase marker
  • Tissue to use as an eraser

How to do it

Prepare the plastic plate by cutting pieces of the electrical tape length-wise and sticking them on the plate so that they look like a musical staff. You should end up with five, thin horizontal pieces of tape, spaced an equal distance apart. The staff is generally made up of five lines and four spaces. Notes are placed on these lines and spaces to indicate pitch and rhythm.

Have your child draw notes (plain, open circles work best) on the lines and spaces of the staff using a dry-erase marker. To correctly identify the notes, he will need to remember that the line notes are E, G, B, D, and F from the bottom of the staff to the top (use the mnemonic "every good boy does fine") and the space notes are F, A, C, and E from bottom to top (which spells "face"). In this activity, you'll be focusing on pitch, so just have your child draw open circles.

Begin by drawing only the line notes (drawn so that the appropriate line is through the center of the circle), then do the space notes (circles are in the spaces, between the lines). Once he can draw line and space notes separately, mix them up! Be careful, because the pitches E and F are both line and space notes. Call out a note name and see how fast he can draw the note.

Need more practice placing and naming notes? Check out this website: Music Theory.

Paul Bakeman is a music teacher in Virginia and a Teacher of the Year award winner.

Comments from readers

"It bothers me that the article assumes there is only treble clef reading in the world, without even mentioning it, or acknowledging there is a bass clef/left hand for pianists/tenor and bass vocalists. No wonder kids struggle with bass clef when they do learn it. If you're going to teach notation/reading, teach it all. This is like introducing only the first 12 letters of the alphabet, and not saying there are 12 left. I don't know what those awards were based on, there seems a lot of room for improvement in the teaching approach. "
"Hi A web-game implementation of this idea can be found at Name that Note is a note recognition game, and there's also a pitch recognition edition too."
"it was really hard."