If you work your way around the 'circle of fifths' you work your may through all the major scales. For example, starting with C major if we add one sharp, F#, we get G major. Adding a second sharp, C#, gives us D major and a third, G#, A major. The way English speaking music students remember this is with the mnemonic:

Father Charles goes down and ends battle

(N.B. Going the other way, adding flats, follows the mnemonic "Battle ends and down goes Charles' father".)

What is the history of this mnemonic?

  • I'm asking here in response to Doubt's question on the Music Practise and Performance Stack Exchange site: music.stackexchange.com/q/9858/2125 – dumbledad Mar 1 '13 at 15:03
  • This one does have the advantage of being reversible. There are lots of other versions but as for finding the origin, I wish you luck! – Andrew Leach Mar 1 '13 at 15:19
  • Do any other music mnemonics have traceable origins? I'd be surprised; I would guess they simply catch on and evolve. – J.R. Mar 1 '13 at 16:17
  • Good luck in finding out how, when, and where a particular mnemonic came into being. The technique of using mnemonics goes back thousands of years. The writer of Psalm 119, the longest song in the Bible, used successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (22 altogether) to begin each section of the psalm, presumably to aid singers in memorizing it. (Good luck!). Early rhetoricians, too, used mnemonics to remember their talking points by assigning each to a different "haunt" or cubbyhole. I can't resist adding the Great Lakes mnemonic: H-O-M-E-S. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. – rhetorician Mar 1 '13 at 16:54
  • 2
    @Dumbledad: It may be hard to figure out who first coined certain words or phrases, but one can do some digging and figure out when such words first started appearing in print. Therefore, it may be possible to figure out when this was first printed in a music book, but it just seems like there's a good chance such cute memory devices were in use long before they found their way into print, because instructional authors would be more apt to borrow a common mneumonic than invent one of their own. – J.R. Mar 1 '13 at 18:07

In 1885, in an article about music education, the author wrote the Father Charles line, and attributed it to a "government schoolmistress," saying that it "emanated from one of the training colleges."

A similar mnemonic – Go Down And Enter By Force – is printed on the same page; that one is attributed to "some unknown author."

Reference: Educational Plans in Music Teaching, in The Quarterly Music Review, Vol. 1, 1885.

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  • Wonderful evocative quote! – dumbledad Mar 1 '13 at 18:21

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