Welcome! I've declared it "Montessori Music Week" here at What DID We Do All Day?. Each day this week I will show you a little more of our Montessori music materials. Today I am excited to show your our DIY Montessori bells and bells boards.
I made our bells from two sets of children's handbells like these (from Hobby Lobby).
When I purchased these sets they were $15 each, but with two 50%-off coupons it only cost me $15 total.
This set of bells from Neinhuis costs $979:
I used parts of a can of white and a can of brown spray paint that I already had lying around the house from making Montessori materials in general. And to answer your next burning question...NO! Spray painting the bells does not change their pitch. I know you don't believe me, but it doesn't. I am a professional musician. I started by spray painting ONE of the bells from ONE of the sets. This way I could play a sprayed bell and an un-sprayed bell to compare the pitch by ear. I also have checked them all with my professional quality tuner and they all still register in tune at A=440.
I taped the handles with painter's tape to maintain their existing white color. I chose not to spray the underside of the bells. This serves as an extra (but unnecessary) control of error in that the child can check their matching work by turning them over. I've asked my kids not to peek underneath and they generally do what I ask when it comes to that type of thing. If your's can't resist the urge to peek, you could tape the clapper with painters tape and spray the underneath as well.
Some bell sets also are numbered (1-8) and have that number engraved on the top of the bell. Ours did, so I filled it with wood putty (just smeared some in with my finger) before I sprayed them. I considered just leaving it alone because the numbers are pretty small and difficult to notice on a sprayed bell.
Here are the boys finishing up matching some brown bells to the white ones. Me Too is still working on matching. Kal-El finished all of the matching activities and extensions over the course of two work periods and is now working on grading the bells.
Bess at Grace and Green Pastures has outdone herself and transformed the same bells that I bought into bells on stands just like the real thing. If you have the patience and resources, this would be a great option:
The Nienhuis bells boards are usually made of wood, come in two pieces and look something like this:
Note: all of the suppliers photograph these upsided down for some reason. If you are making them yourself please note that the green goes in back so that you build your keyboard in the right direction. I made ours in one piece from a couple of yards of felt in green, white, and black. I measured my bells and then cut appropriately-sized squares from the black and white felt. They are joined the green felt with Stitch Witchery (I can't use a sewing machine. Yet.). You could use liquid stitch (or sew it properly with a machine) but I find that liquid stitch shows through thin fabrics like glue does when you glue tissue paper.
NOTE: (added 1/24/12) I may choose to cut my felt "board" in half at a later date in able to properly present the "tetrachord."
We currently have this material laid out on the window seat because I don't want to have to set up the white control bells each time the boys want to use this.
When they can both successfully grade the bells themselves it they will be moved to a shelf to save room in our homeschool setting. The bells will go on the tray you see to the right of the bells. The felt "board" can then be rolled and stored in a very compact manner with the bells.
I'm sure you've noticed that I don't have the black bells. They ARE available. You can buy one set of the 5 missing chromatic bells for $30:
Remember, you would have to buy two sets. I have decided NOT to buy the chromatic bells, at least for now. I have looked through all my bells presentations and I found something like 50 presentations that use only the white bells, and 4 or 5 that use the black. I decided not to shell out an extra $60 to do those few presentations. The child eventually learns to build a major scale with the bells, but you can only build the C major scale anyway because you only have one octave of bells. Elementary Montessori students graduate to the tone bars:
I plan to substitute a good set of resonator bells instead like these: Resonator Bell Set
Each individual resonator bell can be removed, carried around, reordered, etc., unlike a xylophone or glockenspiel. They cover an two full octaves which now allows you to play in any key and construct any scale. The resonator bells cover G-to-g rather than C-to-c like the Montessori tone bars so I will have to adjust my accompanying materials a bit but I think it will be a good compromise. You can buy a resonator bell set for about $160 if you shop around. The $60 I would have to pay for the chromatic handbells seems like it would it would be better put towards the resonator bells. (Update 2/12: I did buy a set of resonator bells for future use and they are great. I was able to pick up a set for $145 on Amazon. Trophy, Basic Beat, and Rhythm Band brands are less expensive than Suzuki brand. You do not need wooden resonators, plastic resonators are fine)
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Stay tuned this week for more music materials! I'll show you our Montessori music manual, our notation materials, and the other instruments on our shelves.
If you are looking for the rest of my series on Montessori Music, there is a tab at the top of my blog under the header, or they can be found here!