Remember the kid in class that you didn’t want to have on your team for the spelling bee? Well I was that kid. I was also the kid that you didn’t want to have on any sports teams, but that is a whole other story. I can’t spell. Never could. I absolutely hated the spelling bees we used to have in grades three and four. I seem to have issues remembering letter combinations and letter-number combinations. When my turn arrived, I would haltingly spit out some letters based on phonetics, which was always risky because on the east coast of Canada accents and pronunciations can vary every twenty-five miles or less. One could place bets on the fact that I would be the first student to sit down.
Never assume, like a lot of people do, that because someone can’t spell that they are lazy and or unintelligent. I finished high school in the 70’s when you could still fail and had to complete the work to get the grade. I happened to like school and learning and made decent marks. Not knowing what I wanted to do, I studied secretarial and office procedures at community college where I eked out a 50% spelling mark in a class with an 80% spelling mark average. I studied design and merchandising at Ryerson in the 80’s and fell in love with writing the essays for my electives. I graduated from York University in the 90’s–attending part time over eleven years. Writing exams was a challenge because even though I could recognize a misspelled word, I couldn’t figure out the correct spelling. I took to putting (sp?) above any word that I knew was spelled wrong. I also graduated from The Humber School for writers in 2005, while relying heavily on spell checkers. These days, I rely on Siri. Hey Siri, how do you spell acronym? My only concern with using Siri is that I will pronounce a word incorrectly or that she will provide a similar word that I will use incorrectly. Hence, I don’t like to use words that my tongue or my brain will stumble over. Yet I can still get my point across. I can still compose long literary sentences. I can still write a good rant.
So what does spelling have to do with piano keys? Think about it. Learning to read music is like learning a new language. I started taking piano lessons last fall. Each note is a letter. There are several letters involved. They repeat themselves every eight notes, recurring in various locations on the Grand Staff. There are patterns and chords, made up of combinations of notes, so combinations of letters. My brain thinks it’s a lot like spelling.
Because I am a visual person, I find that I memorize the actual keys to be played quicker than the notes that I am trying to read. Something that is totally defeating the purpose of reading music. I am constantly reciting, and constantly mixing up, the acronyms that are used to help me remember all the notes.
E G B D F – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge – Many of you may have heard of this one even if you, like me, didn’t know what it represented. Now I know. They are the notes that sit on the lines of the Treble Clef. I tend to mix up the B and the D. I confuse their placement with those same notes on the Bass Clef. I want to put the big dog in there (see G B D F A) even though I know that you shouldn’t put dogs and fudge in the same room.
F A C E – These are the notes in the spaces of the Treble Clef. They sometimes get lost because there is no story involved. Just a single word that likes to roam freely.
G B D F A – Great Big Dogs Fight Animals, which I had to change to Great Big Doves Fly Away because, for some reason, I was confusing the dogs with the cows in the next acronym. These represent the notes on the lines of the Bass Clef. Occasionally the dogs still show up and want to fly as well.
A C E G – All Cows Eat Grass. They do not fight animals, which is what my brain wanted them to do…. hence the doves flying away. These are the notes in the spaces of the Bass Clef. Sometimes though all the cows end up flying away with the dogs and the doves because my brain goes totally blank and I can’t remember where any of them are supposed to be.
Confused? Join the club. It is no surprise that my aging spelling-challenged brain is struggling with music notes and chords. It is also wrestling with beats, which I have to admit I am actually finding harder than the notes. I seem to be lacking rhythm (again, another story). Yet I have no intention of giving up. I enjoy sitting at the piano. I am always up for the challenge. I have learned a great deal since I started piano lessons. I even remember some of it. It’s so nice to know that my brain has the ability to continue learning.
During my stint studying secretarial and office procedures at community college many years ago, I literally looked up the words convenient and convenience every day for a year in a little book called 20,000 words, which listed spellings without meanings. I still have that book. One of those words appeared in every dictated letter that we had to type. The point is that after a year of looking these words up. I finally learned how to spell them and not doubt myself when using them. This is what I expect will happen with music. If I keep at it, I will eventually get it. It’s not like I have a deadline. Perhaps in thirty years, just after I turn 93, I will be able to play all the notes and chords as I read them and entertain the residents at my senior’s home. A majority of them will likely be deaf, others will be dozing; so even if I make a few mistakes, it is quite possible that no one will notice.
Thanks for reading
Photo: Jenn Stone