40. The Magic Number Seven
How many identical lines can you memorize?
The ten thin lines of the grand staff are barely distinguishable to the unprepared eye. It is well known that a person can follow no more than seven homogenous objects with his gaze. And seven, only if he’s really pushing it! But the spaces between the lines are also ‘lines’ in music notation. A child is expected to keep up with not ten, but as a minimum, twenty-two objects! He has to navigate an entire jungle of lines and spaces… and hardly has any reference points.
To keep my beginners from getting lost in this maze, I have numbered each line in the treble and bass clefs with the digits 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The supplementary line for the middle Do got the number 0. Contrary to the traditional practice, the lines of the bass clef are numbered from top to bottom; this makes more sense.
The music staff represents a thermometer, with the 0 in the middle. The music system is quite symmetrical, like a mirror, or a numerical scale. The second Do and the Do of the minor octave are located between lines 3 and 4. I tinted these spaces a light bluish-gray color, making both of these Dos additional places of reference.
Thus, the grand staff has been visually separated into four sections. In each of them, there are only 5-6 lines and spaces; it is much easier to keep up with them now. With this image, the territory of the grand staff is simplified for familiarization! The intimidating ‘scary’ 10 lines and 12 spaces quickly become ordinary space.
Only after all 22 note lines are familiarized can work begin on the supplementary lines. Until the skill of reading the ordinary lines is worked out, how can the student possibly read the additional ones?