Counting and Ornamentation Mnemonics

Many teachers use memory aids as counting devices. "Huckleberry" for a quadruplet and "Cumberland" or "Mexico" for a triplet are old favorites.

Here are mine. (I use food whenever possible, as it's "universal" and works for kids as well as adults.)

Duplet - pizza
Triplet - strawberry
Quadruplet - watermelon (or double pizza or pepperoni)
Quintuplet - hippopotamus
Sextuplet - hippopotamuses
Septuplet - E. coli enteritis (this was suggested by a physician, and doesn't work too well because of accent placement, not to mention that it's pretty arcane, so let me know what you use!)
Octuplet - supercalifragilistic

Using these mnemonics also makes it very easy for technical work when speed is the goal, such as speeding up a trill. (Set metronome to tick on the quarter-note. The student first plays "pizza;" then doubles to "watermelon;" doubles again to "supercalifragilistic.")

For turns or sixteenth-note groups, I use "watermelon," as in Mozart's Ronda alla turca.

An eighth followed by two sixteenths is "hamburger."

Complex combinations such as 2 against 3 and 3 against 4 are more successful with mnemonic devices, too. For 3 against 2: "hamburger bun." For 4 against 3, I use a cleaned-up version of that old chestnut: "Pass the dog-goned butter."

For a triplet spread over twice its value, such as a quarter-note triple played over a half-note, I use "stuck in gum," which emphasizes the "dragging" quality needed.

Repercussions on a trill are "noodles," such as "noodle noodle." For a brief trill with only two repercussions I use "noodle-ee-doo" instead because this figuration appears quite often. For a trill with three repercussions and Nachschläge: "noodle, noodle, noodle, after lunch." This one works especially very well for measured trills in early intermediate literature, such as Clementi's Op. 36 No. 1. ("Lunch" is the following note. I'm so proud of my German pun!) If you have Bach's table of ornaments, this one is his "trillo und mordent."

Sometimes a piece will suggest its own words. Bach's Invention #14 is: "My hippopotamus is not dancing." Beethoven's Pathétique (1 mv. in the descending RH trills section) is "eat a strawberry pie, strawberry pie, strawberry pie every day." The turn figures (5 notes in all) in Beethoven's Für Elise are "strawberry cheesecake," with the first three as a triplet.

As you have noted, mnemonics are particularly helpful in ornamentation. Others:

Mordent - BLOW your nose (or down and back)
Equal-value appoggiatura - PIZza
Quick appoggiatura - DOUGHnut
Acciaccatura - SQUISH it
Grace note - ah-CHOO!
Schleifer - SHUT the door

copyright 1999-2003, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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