The music album I am using, Jean K. Miller's Montessori Music: Sensorial Exploration and Notation with the Bells, includes a series of presentations that help the child learn half steps, whole steps, the tetrachord, and the major scale pattern. (Whole steps and half steps may be called "tones" and "semi-tones" if you are across the pond.) The boys have not gotten to these presentations yet, but I made the materials.
The black and white squares on the Montessori bells boards are similar to, but not exactly like a piano keyboard.
bells board with half and whole steps labelled with cards
a piano keyboard
The white squares on the Montessori bells boards don't touch one another if they are a whole step apart, unlike a piano keyboard in which the white keys wrap under the black. This makes it a lot easier for the child to identify the half and whole steps on the Montessori bells board. After a three-period lesson is given on the half and whole step cards and they are sorted into piles, one can pick two adjacent bells that have a space between them. Play and sing the bells. Then say something like "These bells have a space between them. This is called a whole step." Finally, place the appropriate card. A similar procedure would be followed to introduce the half step. You would continue on until all of the half and whole steps are labeled.
The Montessori bells boards are manufactured in two pieces. The first tetrachord of the major scale is on one and the second tetrachord is on the other. This allows you to take one keyboard on which the bells are placed and move it in front of the other keyboard in order to see that the two tetrachords of the major scale have the same pattern (W,W,H). I will have to cut my one-piece felt board in two in order to do this lesson.
The child will have learned so play and sing the ascending and descending scale in earlier presentations. This is the first time they see that the major scale is built using a particular pattern of whole and half steps. Usually a control chart is provided so that the child can check their work labeling the whole and half steps.
Whole and half step cards and the control strip are available for purchase through Nienhuis.
I made my own and am sharing the files with my readers via the links below. Due to the size of the control strip I made it was little tricky to create a sharable file. You'll have to print onto legal-sized paper and do a little cutting and pasting. Once you laminate, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference :)
whole step file
half step file
Half Step and Whole Step Control Strip
Miller states that "An understanding of whole steps, half steps and the tetrachord are concepts which prepare children for work with the tone bars during the years from six to twelve." The tone bars provide two octaves of notes and the child will be able to construct any major scale they wish by following this pattern of whole and half steps.
Enjoy! Tomorrow I hope to continue this series and post a little bit about the pitch notation materials.
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!
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