Music Rhymes to help in a Music Theory lesson

What is the best rhyme for teaching the order of sharps and flats? Do you even use a rhyme?

Currently at The Fun Music Company, we are really busy finishing and editing our next “Printable Music Theory Book” and this question came up so I just wanted to ask for your opinion on how to teach the cycle of 4ths or 5ths.

Some say that students should be able to remember the order of sharps and flats by rote. I feel that that’s okay for a more advanced player who uses the scales on a daily basis, but we’re talking here about teaching this concept to beginners with little experience even playing scales.

I know that to help me remember the colors of the rainbow I still have to think ROYGBIV! So what’s the harm in using a simple rhyme to help remember the order of sharps and flats in the cycle of 4ths or 5ths. I have always found that in teaching children musical concepts such as this one, it was all so abstract that little rhymes just made it easier for them to remember. At this level, most students don’t even play all the scales yet and I found it was just too hard to get them to learn it all by rote.

The rhyme that we grew up with here in Australia was “Fat Cat Got drowned At East Brighton” to remember the order of sharps and to get the order of flats we simply remembered Be Early And Don’t Get Cold Feet.
Of course you could just reverse the first letters of the first rhyme to get the order of flats as well.

Through our extensive review process where 5 reviewers from around the world examine the book contents, we stumbled across the problem that US students may not find it relevant because of the East Brighton – plus it just sounds old fashioned and out dated.

Kevin, my dear husband and the man who has been specializing in writing the Printable Music Theory books came up with a fun rhyme to help it become more world wide and fun!

Fat Cats Go Dancing And Elephants Boogie

What do you think? Would you use it?

I would love to get your feedback on what rhymes work for you if any and how you would teach the concept. Please just use the comment in the box below and I look forward to finding out what you think.

Printable Music Theory Books

30 Comments

  • By Jason Reply

    Here’s one I got from a student. It seems to work well for middle-school boys:

    Fire Causes Great Damage And Everything Burns!

  • By Karen Reply

    Alright, I have a really interesting way to teach key signatures. Very out of the box but it is so simple. The set up is the hardest part so here we go. First right down the order of the sharps 3 times putting a flat with all of the first set, naturals in the second set and sharps in the third. It would look like this…

    Fb Cb Gb Db Ab Eb Bb – F C G D A E B – F# C# G# D# A# E# B#

    Do this all on one line. It makes more sense. To figure out how many flats or sharps there are in a major key. Start at C and count how many letters away the key you want is. So for example, A is 3 letters away from C (moving towards the sharps) so in A Major there are 3 sharps. Another example, how many sharps or flats are there in Eb Major. Well Eb is 2 letters aways from C (moving towards the flats) so there are 2 flats in Eb Major. The same hold true for all minor keys except your starting place will be A. Count how far away any key is from A and you will have your key signature for the minor key. It is by far the simplest explaination of key signatures I have ever seen.

    • By Frankie Reply

      I like the method of writing them all out in a long line, however you state that Eb has 2 flats, however Eb major has 3 flats Bb, Eb and Ab and therefore it wouldn’t it be counted as 3 away from C?

  • By Pamela Reply

    Hello Janice,

    I love it! Much better than other ones I’ve heard. I’ll try it with some students this week. Thanks!

    Pamela

  • By Simon Reply

    Father Christmas Gives Dad An Electric Blanket (for the sharps). Blanket Explodes And Dad Gets Cold Feet (for the flats). This is my favourite, as you can reverse the order but still link both parts.

  • By Carol Reply

    I love the new “American” rhyme. I’d have to agree…. Kevin rocks!

  • By Ann Reply

    Another rhyme I have used is Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle. This can be said in reverse for the flats – Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father. However, my pupils seem to prefer the Father Christmas one above.
    Just a small point re Karen’s post – I think she meant to put that Eb is 3 letters away from C so it has 3 flats in the key signature. It’s great to hear different ways to teach key signatures so if a student has a problem with one idea, we always have another in reserve.
    When I was taught key signatures “many years ago” I just counted up 5 for the sharps – C up 5 to G up 5 to D and so on – 5 letters in sharp, and 4 for the flats – 4 letters in flat, but I think the rhymes make it easier.

  • By Marti Reply

    As a classroom teacher, I frequently use rhymes and acronyms to help my students to remember things we are studying. It works at any age.

  • By Patti Reply

    For sharps I use Fat Cats Get Down And Eat Biscuits. For flats I use B E A D Gold Costs
    Fortune. These have worked for me for many years. I’ve found it’s best to stay with just one saying for each musical concept taught. The more sayings you have for each concept, the less the student will remember. It is fun to hear the mnemonics that the school music teachers use in our area. If students have already learned a mnemonic at school or at church choir, I let them continue to use the one they already know.

  • By Lisa Kujawa Reply

    Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle
    Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father

    That’s how I learned it!

  • By Jessie Reply

    I also have found that rhymes and things are the easiest way to remember things. I haven’t made it to key signatures this year yet, but for remembering notes there is always FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine or my kids came up with Elvis’s Guitar Broke Down Friday.

    Also to Karen, I’m not sure that works, because Eb major has three flats and you said according to that method that there are only two. Two flats would be Bb major.

  • By Dan Reply

    Can any one think of a rhyme to help me remember the order of the modes?

    thanks

    • By janice Reply

      Hi Dan,
      We’ll put our thinking hats on for that one!
      Kind Regards,
      Janice

    • By Amanda M Price Reply

      One that I came up with. To tailor for younger crowds, exchange “Alcoholic” for “Adolescent” or “Academic”.

      I Don’t Particularly Like My Alcoholic Life
      Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian Locrian

  • By Karin Marietta Reply

    Dear reader, how about: Fat Cats Go Dancing And Elephants Boogie Generally During Afternoon Episodes of Bob the builder! I’m going to test drive this one next Wednesday. This rhyme takes us around the cycle of fifths moving clockwise from 12 o’clock.(12 major/12 minor keys) I think most kids have seen Bob the builder and might like to have a bash at writing their own jingle. Could even open doors to other fun compositions! (2 sessions for the price of 1!)

    Kind regards
    Karin Marietta

    Kind regards
    Karin

  • By Mary-Beth Reply

    For many years, I have taught my students to remember:
    Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Biscuits (and)
    B E A D Glass Cuts

    It still proves to be a successful method, and it seems to be especially popular among the younger students.

    To Jessie, I believe Karen only made a mistake. Her method is correct. She wrote the following:

    Fb Cb Gb Db Ab Eb Bb FCGDAEB F# C# G# D# A# E# B#

    Beginning from C, Eb is 3 steps away. She simply made a minor mistake, and said it was two. Even though she miscounted, this method is still correct, as it shows Eb is 3 steps away.

  • By LAM Reply

    I learned all my key signatures and order of flats/sharps using sayings.
    For the order of sharps: Fat Charles gets dumped at every ball.
    For the order of flats: BEAD Greatest Common Factor.
    For identifying key signatures with sharps: Greg destroyed all earth by fire, Charles.
    For identifying key signatures with flats: Fat boys eat apple dumplings, girls cook.

    Very strange sayings, but that’s how I’ve been remembering it for almost 8 years now.

  • By Shelly Reply

    Order of Modes:
    I made up this one~
    I Don’t Pinch Llamas Manes After Lunch.
    Its silly but it works 🙂

    Order of 4ths:

    Bill Eats All Dave’s Gorgeous Chocolate Frogs

    • By janice Reply

      What creativity Shelly- thanks for sharing your fun ways of learning.

    • By Peter Reply

      For the order of modes, how about, “I Doubt Phrigid Lydia Mixes A Lot”

  • By Yo Reply

    What about Father Christmas gives dad a electric blanket?

    • By janice Reply

      Father Christmas Gives Dad an Electric Blanket ! Great stuff & keep them coming

  • By Justin Sweeting Reply

    Order of Modes:

    “I Don’t Punch Like Muhummad A-Li”

  • By Leesa Reply

    I always have used one I made up in college to help me remember….similar to another poster

    Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds

    Thanks for all the sharing!! Will help mix things up alittle. 🙂

  • By Alyssa Reply

    Fat Cats Go Down All Escalators Backwards

  • By Denise Reply

    For modes, I was taught:
    In Denver People Like Music At Lunch (in LOdo).
    I always use the Lodo to remind me locrian rather than lydian.

  • By Tracy Reply

    I use this saying:

    Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle (Sharps)

    Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father (Flats)

    It works as a sentence both ways so the students only need to remember one 🙂

  • By Katelyn Reply

    Fun Clowns Go Danceing And Eats Bannas

  • By Clive Ashton Reply

    I learned the sharps and flats as. Fat cat got drowned at erdington baths and bead girls can’t forget. U.K. Version

  • By Alice Reply

    For Modes i usually do – I Don’t Particularly Like Modes A Lot

    And for the key signatures I do –
    Father Christmas Gives Dad An Electric Blanket (sharps)
    Electric Blanket Explodes And Gives Dad Cold Feet

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