Monday, May 20, 2013

Montessori Music: Elementary Tone Bars

I am sooo excited to report that we have our version of the elementary tone bars completely up and running!  You may have read our previous post about Montessori music in which we began to transition from the bells to the tone bars.  If you you can find all of my posts to date on Montessori Music under the Montessori Music tab below my blog header.

First, I introduced our new DIY tone bar keyboard.  The "real thing" is a painted wood board and runs about $50 at Nienhuis.  Ours was made from fade-proof construction paper, a Sharpie, and my laminator and was essentially free.

I apologize for the photo quality in this post.  It is REALLY hard to take a picture in this location at the time of day that we do work.  It is a south-east window and the sun is blinding.  I have to counteract terrible sun and shadows.  I should reshoot all of this in the afternoon, but we do our work in the mornings.

Anyway, you'll notice I put a tiny stripe of green down the right-hand side so that the boys can make sure the keyboard is right-side-up before they begin work if they are loading the tone bars themselves.  It is tricky because the resonator bars we purchased in place of the real (and really expensive) Montessori tone bars have a range from g-g instead of c-c.  The g-g range means the tone bar keyboard starts and ends with a split group of three black.  The traditional c-c range of the Montessori bars maintains the pretty groups of 2 and 3 black together but is a little high for singing.  The resonator bars we have are ranged to match a plethora of Suzuki and Orff instruments which are ranged from g-g for singability.  By-the-way, this means that you can't buy the Nienhuis keyboard to go with your non-Nienhuis resonator bars.

I didn't scan this to make a printable file because of it's size.  I used legal-sized laminating film to laminate it in two sections and taped them together.

Me Too placed all of the white tone bars on the keyboard for me and explored them with the mallet.  He noticed the different lengths and Kal-El reminded him that a lot of instruments are lower when longer and shorter when higher.

Kal-El used his new knowledge of sharps and flats to place all of the black tone bars.

I was super-excited to introduce the major scale strip.  These are traditionally all in white and I've seen a few pictures of it done in black and white (not recommended), as well as green and white or blue and white.  I chose green and white rather than all white in order to highlight the whole steps and help the boys be more sure of positioning as they slide it beneath the tone bar keyboard.

The major scale strip slides along in front of tone bar keyboard.  The child can build a major scale starting on ANY note.  You decide which note you want your scale to begin on and place the number one in front of that bar.  Then, you pull forward all of the bars that are positioned behind a white, numbered rectangle.  You don't pull forward any bars behind a green rectangle. Kal-El had a LOT of fun building many, many major scales that day.  My husband was tickled when he built the F# Major scale (pictured) because older students we work with consider that "the hardest" and here our first grader was building it with a smile.

Musicians have to understand multiple ways that scale degrees are identified.  For this reason I made my scale strip reversible.  If the boys flip it over they will find the same thing on the back but labeled with solfege (do, re, mi...) instead of numbers.  I made the major scale strip from construction paper and laminated just as I did with the keyboard.  However, I did scan my pages before I laminated.  My post tomorrow will have the major scale strip available as a free download for you all.  (Edited to add: Here is a link to the post with the free download)

Kal-el quickly moved on to playing melodies on the tone bars.  He has large charts I made him for memorizing the note names of his Suzuki violin music.  His violin teacher wants them to be able to sing all of their violin music on pitch by note name for now.  He knows what key each of his pieces are in.  For this reason, he was able to go grab any one of 20+  pieces I have written out by letter name (without sharps or flats), pull forward the correct tone bars using the major scale strip, and play any of his violin pieces in the correct key.  In the photo above he is playing Suzuki's Allegretto in D Major.

He had a fun surprise when he started to play some of the Bach Minuets because some of those pieces use C-natural and C-sharp, D-natural and D-sharp.  So already he learned that a scale is a collection of notes that can be used to write music.  He also learned that sometimes a composer will "accidentally" use a note that is not in the scale or collection he chose.  Those notes are called "accidentals."  Because they are still on the window seat along with the tone bars he chose forward he can still play them.  However, their position in the back (not pulled forward along with the notes that belong to the key signature or scale) highlights their "accidental" status.  I really enjoyed this.

Tomorrow I will put up the major scale strip as a free download.  Also, for those who are wondering, our tone bars are the Basic Beat BBA25 25 Note Resonator Bells.

If you are looking for the rest of my posts about Montessori Music you can find them under the Montessori Music tab at the top of my blog, under the header.

Montessori Monday


  1. Cool! The green really does seem to fit like that. I've seen people try to make them out of black and white, but that is confusing because sometimes a black tone bar is slid forward, and sometimes a white one, but they are ONLY slid ONto the numbered sections, so children are trying to move them side to side as well.

    I shared our previous discussion about the solfege naming on the back with a musical friend of mine - he really likes the idea of emphasizing it on the strips like this precisely because it gets children AWAY from the idea that "C" is always 'do'. I thought, "good point!"

    Now if I could just get him to critique the entire album ;)

    Question - I've not had much experience with the high quality resonator bars/bells/tones ( ;) ) - do they all tend to run the same width. I've been hesitant to create printables only because of a concern in sizing, but only 2 of the various companies I have contacted have actually responded with the measurements.

    I love your husband's response! Isn't so great that our children can do the trickiest of things with the Montessori materials, with the same ease as they do what we would consider basic? :) I love it!

    1. See! I'm not as nutty as I sometimes seem :)

      As for the width of the bells, I couldn't say with authority. I've never had multiple brands all in the same room at once. I can say that over the many many years I've used them they've all "felt" about this size. I figure either people will be able to use the printable or they won't. It's not like I'm making money on it.

    2. It seems they would be pretty consistent - or close enough. I'm too much a trained Montessorian and think in perfectionism terms... not a good thing.

      However - *nutty* is a *requirement* ;)

      Why else would we all follow this crazy Montessori homeschool path where people ask what my son has been learning in homeschool (totally respecting that we homeschool, and they even use the term homeschool) and he responds, "School!? I play with Legos, read books, and do chores for Mama!"
      Sigh. ;) I love every minute of it.

    3. I'm right there with you! You can see from the blog that we've been plenty busy. But even so, a neighbor asked me recently when we could possibly be "having school" because it seems like every time she looks the kids are in the yard. Nope. We're still "having school" but one of the main reasons we homeschool is because IT DOESN"T TAKE VERY LONG. (They HAVE been up the tree an awful lot...but often time with schoolwork in their hands. Plus, if you are a little boy that age climbing a tree IS your work.)

      If your son is learning as much as he obviously is and FEELS like all he does is play Legos, read books and do chores for Mama he obviously is being taught in just the right way. What a lucky boy. Tell him I spent my school years doing those things too but it FELT like I did homework all day.

      On a side note, I laughed at your "perfection" comment after reading Matt's comment on Montessori Online about Montessori materials along the line of...not "does it work", does it "teach the skill", but "is it perfect?"

    4. I have a post going up in a few days with Legoboy up a tree - actually posing and SMILING intentionally for the camera (this rarely happens).

      Perfect ;) That's all that matters ;)

  2. Fantastic! I can't wait until L starts elementary music next year!

  3. Oh! Will you be continuing with Montessori for elementary primarily? If so, remind me to add you to the elementary blog list in fall. I always thought your oldest was still really young, but I realize now that the age you have for L in your "about me" is probably a couple years out of date. I have a job for you today.... LOL :)

  4. I always enjoy reading about your music activities! Awesome, as usual! I love that you link up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page: