The Major System Basics

The Major System – powerful, yet simple …

First off, if you’re aiming to use the Major System, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to remember a whole big truckload of information in order to do so. All you really need to know is the basic number substitute sounds. This is a powerful memory system, but that doesn’t mean you need to learn much to get started with it. In fact, there are only ten numbers you need to replace – from 0 to 9. These form the building blocks from which you can form any words you can think of that conform to the ‘rules’.

No.Sound(s)Memory jogger
0z,s'z' sound for zero
1t,d't' and 'd' both have just one downstroke
2n'n' has two downstrokes
3m'm' has three downstrokes
4rfour ... ends in the 'r' sound
5lroman numeral for 50 is L
6j,sh,ch,soft g'j' reversed is something like a 6
7k,q,hard c or g'k' looks like it can be formed from two 7s
8f,vhandwritten 'f' can look like an 8
9p,b'p' reversed is like a handwritten number 9

The phonetic alphabet – basis of the Major System

These number substitute sounds are just that … sounds. The letters are unimportant, only the sounds. That’s why s and z, for example, are both listed for zero – the letters don’t matter, only the sounds they make, and s and z generally sound similar. It’s the same with the number 6 – the sound associated with 6 can be made by j (as in juice), or soft g (as in cabbage), or sh (as in sheep), or ch (as in chef).

The fact that the same (or very similar) sound is expressed differently in letters is neither here nor there. In fact, it’s a bonus – it means you have a vastly wider range of words to choose from than if 6 had to be represented by a particular letter. There’s a very clever little free program that will help you come up with the word equivalents of a long number, and it’s called 2Know. Get it from here.

Vowels don’t count in the Major System!

All the sounds in this alphabet are consonant sounds. That doesn’t mean you’re restricted in how you form words. In fact, it means the exact opposite; you can add any vowel sounds at all, anywhere … so you can form a virtually limitless number of words. You can even add vowel sounds to the beginning of a word, as in ‘ocean’, for 62. Ocean is formed of two consonant sounds, ‘sh’, and ‘n’. The ‘o’ sound at the beginning of the word is irrelevant. You can add sounds like this anywhere in a word. And they don’t have to be strictly vowel sounds – again, the actual letters are unimportant, it’s just about the sounds.

So forget about a, e, i, o, and u being the vowels. All you need to think of is adding sounds that aren’t part of the Major System’s phonetic alphabet. Another example of a word with ‘extra’ sounds is whisky, for 07. Whisky has only two consonant sounds – ‘s’ and ‘k’. The opening sound (before the ‘s’) is disregarded, as is the ‘y’ at the end. Remember, this is all about the sounds, not the letters.

To give you an idea of the range of possibilities using this system, 07 can form lots of other words as well as whisky. You could have whisk … or sky … or saga … or psycho … or soak … or seacow … or wiseguy … or sake … or Osaka … or Isaac … or husky … or ask … or seek … or … need I go on?! It’s almost infinite! In all of these words, there are only the two consonant sounds, and any other sounds are disregarded.

Another example of the range of this system is with the number 84. This could be rendered by fry … or ferry … or afar … or ovary … or fur … or pharoah … or Ivor … or viewer … or ivory … or every … or freeway … and the list goes on, and on …

Remember …  vowel sounds don’t count!
you can add vowel sounds anywhere and make longer words

Practise the basics

I think you see by now how simple the system is, and how little you have to actually learn. But don’t let that stop you learning it! Spend some time reviewing this page and really going over the information in it. Make sure you understand that it’s the sounds that are important, and not the letters. Although you see a few different letters or groups of letters for some of the numbers, each number is basically represented by just one sound.

And try to get used to the idea that the vowel sounds are unimportant. Practise making words out of the sounds in the table above, starting with any two-digit number and seeing how many words you can come up with.

Just as the vowel sounds can be sprinkled here and there, just as you please, including at the beginning of a word, be aware also that, for example, a ‘c’ can represent 7, just as ‘k’ would … as long as it’s a hard c, as in ‘cat’, or ‘California’. And silent letters (like the ‘k’ in knee, or the ‘p’ in psycho, or psyche) don’t count at all (well, they’re silent, right? and that means there’s no sound)!

Convert … both ways

Licence plate - the major system helps you remember the letters

Practise converting licence plates in your mind … although, to be fair, some are easier than others!

This phonetic alphabet is very important if you want to use the Major System. It’s not hard to learn, but it has to be properly understood and practised till you’re thoroughly familiar with it. A good way to practise it is to watch out for opportunities to convert one way or the other, such as when you see a car licence plate, or anything that has a few letters or numbers in it. See if you can recognise the numbers as a sequence of sounds (not letters!) and make words up from the sounds. And if it’s letters, try to convert them back into a number.

Just do it whenever the opportunity arises and you’ll soon be seeing numbers as sounds more and more easily, and not having to consciously convert them. And that’s what you want – to be able to perceive them as sounds you can work with, sounds you can mould into words and phrases. At first they’ll all be tiny words, naturally, since this is a system you’re unfamiliar with, but pretty soon you’ll find yourself seeing the chance to make longer words, and of course, the mental images that go with them.

To learn more about the Major System, take a look at these other pages: learn the Major System peg words (these will help you to master this amazing system), learn how to use the Major System as a Mental Notebook, and learn the Major System in Pictures. All the links you need are also in the sidebar.


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