Dim Memories From The ‘Erie Canal’ Era


You know what?

I’ve got an old mule, and as fate would have it, her name is Sal. She’s a good old worker, and a good old pal.

Besides that disjointed snatch of lyrics, I think the 1890s hit “Daisy Bell,” about the bicycle built for two, comes close to being the total of my elementary school musical background.

I didn’t do band or sing in the choir in my youthful academic days, and I only took up my first musical instrument (the G and A handbells in the bass clef) very recently, as in, I was already north of 50. But, I’ve been exchanging some e-mails with the piano teacher at MMU. As I noted in my blog earlier, I plan to start piano lessons this year. Well, it looks like it will happen.

The tentative launch date is early March–I could begin in February, but with a new semester and the ICMA convention, I just though maybe March would work better.

In the latest of his e-mails to me, Tony the piano guy asked, in a sort of off-hand, too casual, “God I hope so” way, whether I could read notes in both the treble and bass clefs.

I like the way he phrased the question, as if it would be a given that, of course, I could read oe_to_fne or the other.

That would be “no.” And “no.” I read four notes in the bass clef only: the high G, high A, G flat, A sharp. And I get easily confused about the flats and sharps (or tears and spiders, as I like to think of them) and want to dope slap the genius who decided flats and sharps aren’t confusing enough for aging musical novices: “Lets give each of thosegbdfe notes two names. Bwa Ha Ha Ha!”

Anyway, I honestly answered back that I only read two notes. He hasn’t responded to that piece of cheery news. But some ancient memory from the Erie Canal era bubbled to the surface, and I came face to face with FACE. And was a good enough boy to recall that Every Good Boy Does Fine. In other words, I recall mnemonic devices learned, for some reason, in elementary school music class. FACEface, read from down to up, are the space notes in the treble clef. EGBDF—Every Good Boy Does Fine—are the notes on the lines, bottom to top.

Recalling that ancient bit of lore, that merry musical mnemonic trick from 4th grade, doesn’t mean that I read music, but at least I have a starting point to jiggle my neurons in the treble region. The irony is that the only musical notes I truly do read now are upper G and A in the bass zone.

There, in the bass, the notes are AECG for spaces and GBDFA for lines.aceg

What do I try as a mnemonic to recall the bass clef notes? “An Egg Creates Gas?” “All Elephants Cry Gaily?” “Asphalt Extracts Concrete Governments?” What about the lines? “Gall Bladders Dogbdfan’t Fart Aromas?” “Good Bouncers Do Fight Anytime?” “Great Buddies Deny Feverish Antiquity?”

Help me out, blog pals. If you, unlike me, went beyond Erie Canal in your musical education, how did you remember what all those quick dots on the bass lines and spaces mean? March will be coming soon, and I have a sneakig_to_ang suspicion that learning the notes might be an early part of this whole piano thingy.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Dim Memories From The ‘Erie Canal’ Era

  1. CRGardenJoe

    And, looking at the post hours later, I think I messed up the order of notes anyway–shouldn’t it be ACEG? A Cartographer Elects Galileo?

  2. As I recall from my long ago piano days, ACEG was “All Cows Eat Grass.” GBDFA was “Good Boys Do Fine Always” which didn’t help much because it was too similar to “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Also, I always resented that the boys were the ones always mentioned, but not girls.

  3. Oh! I like “Grizzly Bears Don’t Fly Airplanes” http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/GBDFA

    • CRGardenJoe

      Yeah, I like the Grizzlies, too. And I agree that “good boys,” since they largely imaginary, shouldn’t be in too many memory aids (and I say that as a former boy).

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