Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Major System

The Major system is a memory technique for remembering numbers of arbitrary length. It works by converting numbers into consonant sounds which are then converted into recognisable words by adding vowels.

These words can then be memorised easily particularly when used in conjunction with other memory techniques. The system is not new and was introduced by Stanislaus Mink von Wennshein (1620 - 1699) and refined by others with the most recent work by Harry Lorayne, author of many popular Memory improvement books.

Here is the table of numbers and how they convert to letters. The conversion is phonetic so you will notice the choice of letters sound roughly similar.

0 s, z, soft c
1 t, d, th
2 n
3 m
4 r
5 l
6 j, sh, soft ch, dg, soft g
7 k, hard ch, hard g, ng, qu
8 f, v
9 b, p

The vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and the letters h, w and y do not have any associated number so they can be used as fillers or "wild cards" to make the words.

The first step in using the Major System is to memorise the substitute letters. This is quite easy:

0 - Zero sounds like s or c. 'o' is the last letter of zero
1 - The letters D and T have one downstroke
2 - The letter N has two downstrokes
3 - The letter M has three downstrokes
4 - The last letter of four is R
5 - The letter L can be thought of as the Roman L meaning 50 or a hand spread with five fingers, the index finger and thumb forming an image.
6 - The letter J is the mirror image of 6
7 - The letter K when seen as a capital contains three number 7s
8 - The letter F when handwritten, has two loops, similar to the number 8.
9 - The letters B and P are mirror imags of 9.

So how do you convert a number into a word?

Write the letters for each word in sequence but leave some spacew between them. If there are choices of letter for a number write them above each other. Now look at the letters and see what words you can make by adding vowels or the "wild card" letters.

I memorised my building access code of 3702 as follows. The number translated to M K S N. This made me think of "moccasin". Now I just imagine a moccasin sitting on top of the security number pad. I haven't worked in that building since December 2001, and I still remember the code!

Telephone numbers can be remembered easily. For example, the NRMA Roadside Assistance number is 13 11 11. This translates to T/D M T/D T/D/ T/D. I thought of "auToMaTeD DuD" as the mnemonic. My car is automatic transmission but since it doesn't work, it is now a dud.

The major system is the basis of a larger number peg system. A substitute word is chosen for each number from 0 to 99. The best way to choose the words is to see which word comes to mind when you translate the number into letters. For example, 7 is K or G. How about "key"?

My first ten numbers and associated words are:

0 saw (imagine a handsaw for cutting wood)
1 tie (necktie)
2 Noah (Noah standing on the ark)
3 ma (A large woman wearing an apron)
4 Ra (Looks like a pharaoh mask)
5 law (Imagine a judge's wig)
6 shoe (brown leather shoe)
7 key (a large, old fashioned key)
8 ivy (a vine of ivy)
9 bee (a large bumblebee)

I have developed my own list of words up to 99 which I can give you if you are interested.

Thinking of words can be challenging at times, but I get help using the 2Know program. Type in the number and the program suggests substitute words from its extensive dictionary. The program is free!


  1. Dear Caveman,

    I believe that, in addition to 2Know, that is also a very good resource. It's database is huge and the information is available online.

  2. This is the first system I use (and still using it)... I've wrote an article about this (in Indonesian):

  3. Thanks for posting this informative post it help me a lot building strong memory.

    Laby[big suit]

  4. Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing... Memory Improvement

  5. Hey, It really is incredibly fantastic and informative website. Good to discover your site Very well article! I’m simply in love with it.
    Memory training