Out of context, the title of this post may seem silly. Why would we start the alphabet on any letter other than A? But in piano pedagogy some older methods teach the music alphabet starting on C and I have encountered some transfer students who have learned the alphabet this way as well. While it may seem like a small difference in preference that really doesn’t matter, I’ve thought through a few reasons why we should teach the music alphabet starting on A:
- It relates the music alphabet to information they already know – the standard alphabet. I had a transfer student who learned the music alphabet starting on C and had never realized it was the same order of letters as the full alphabet. He memorized it as a random series of letters, C D E F G A B. Without being able to relate this to the alphabet, it was another separate chunk of information to process.Why not start with what a student already knows and build from there instead of starting from scratch?
- The piano starts on A. Not much else to this point, it just makes sense to me to start where the piano starts.
- Starting on C sets students up to prefer the key of C over any other key. We want our student to become well-rounded musicians who are comfortable playing in any key. I don’t want them to think that C is the “right” key in which everything should be written.
Have you typically taught the alphabet beginning on A or C? I’d love to hear other opinions on this if they’re out there!
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.
Interesting and thought provoking article.
Personally I always start with the letter C for piano students as it makes sense (as it is the letter for the note between the treble clef and the bass clef, on its own ledger line, so it is easy to find). Students quickly learn to move around the keyboard, so they are not always relating just to ‘middle C’.
Some students have keyboards that don’t start on the letter A from the left so it is not easy to see where the alphabet starts. I start students reading music and relate the written notes to the keyboard layout so they understand the geography of how the instrument is laid out.
I always relate the regular alphabet A-Z to the musical alphabet A-G and have not had any students confused (so far…).
Hi Maggie – I think that starting the alphabet on C can work in the right context, especially when you make sure to still relate it to the A-Z alphabet. I just want to avoid having students miss the connection and think its a random set of letters to memorize. Thanks for the comment!