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The cheap way to get Montessori tone bars

Montessori tone bars are an excellent tool to help you develop your musicality and learn music theory quickly and on your own. Whether you are 5 or 95 years old, you can learn music in such an easy way that it blows my mind.

As a child, I used to attend music theory lessons. For years, week after week, we had to drill meaningless music theory, intervals, order of scales, how many accidentals they have and all that away from any musical instrument. We all dreaded those boring lessons. Montessori method offers much better way to learn music theory and I can’t believe that this almost a hundred-year-old approach isn’t widely adopted in all schools.

What are Montessori tone bars?

Tone bars are two octaves of “prisms of equal dimensions but painted black and white according to the tones they represent. Each prism shows a rectangular plate exposed to view.” In total, 25 prisms are arranged on a keyboard forming two octaves c – c1 – c2. You can move them forward and back and also push the whole row left or right. See the picture from The Montessori Elementary Material book.

Original Montessori tone bars

Why should I use the Montessori tone bars?

As I already stated, Montessori tones bars are an invaluable tool for learning music theory and ear training. If you take up playing a violing, a recorder or a piano, it takes a long time to develop the correct technique and start playing music. That’s not the case with tone bars. You can be a musician in a few minutes, learn on your own and grasp the musical concepts before proceeding with a more sophisticated instrument. I would recommend to everyone who wants play music or learn to sing to start with Montessori tone bars before or alongside of playing another musical instrument.

With Montessori tone bars can easily:

  • practice rhythms
  • practice reading music
  • improve your singing
  • learn intervals
  • learn scales and chords
  • play tunes quickly without having to practice for years
  • you can engage several children at once

Should I get Montessori musical bells or Montessori tone bars?

People often ask, “Should I get Montessori musical bells or Montessori tone bars?” The answer is both because they serve different purposes. Otherwise, there would be no point in creating two different tools.

I guess the main reason for that question is the costs. Both, Montessori bells and Montessori tone bars are really expensive. The Nienhuis Tone Bars set can easily cost you between $600 – $1000. That’s not an alternative for not just home schoolers but also for some schools. Finding an alternative option to Nienhuis Tone Bars is not a rocket science. In this post I will show you how to get a much cheaper tone bars with DIY accessories on a budget.

How to get Montessori tone bars on a budget?

Before I give you a couple of suggestions, let’s discuss what Montessori tone bars really are.

In fact, Montessori tone bars are just a regular metallophone. Metallophone is a musical instrument consisting of tuned metal bars. The bars have a different length and therefore a different pitch.

The rule number one in Montessori method is to limit the perception to only one of the senses and eliminate the other ones. By enclosing the metallophone metal bars in a wooden prism, you can’t see that they are in fact of various lengths. By eliminating the visual recognition, you can focus better on the auditory input. However, since the ear training starts by training the musical hearing with Montessori bells, I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to hide the lengths of the metal bars.

On the assumption that it’s not strictly necessary to eliminate the length of metal bars, you have basically two options: can purchase a set of chime bars or you can buy a metalophone, take it apart and create a DIY prism for each metal bar.

When choosing a set to buy, make sure:

  • the chime bars can be moved individually
  • there are 25 chromatic bars (2 octaves, usually g47 to g71)
  • they are in tune
  • they are either identical or color-coded black and white (not rainbow colors)

I have personally purchased two sets on Amazon, one by Percussion Plus and one by an Italian company Gitre.

Percussion Plus Chime Bars in a Case (Set of 25)

There are 25 chime bars from g47 to g71. They arrived in a very sturdy black case. Each bar is a different length and they are colour coded (white and black). I was surprised how clear the sound was and they were in tune. There were plenty of mallets included.

Gitre Chime Bars Set

The second set I bought was Gitre Chime Bars Set. There are 25 chime bars from g47 to g71. Each was packed separately in a cardboard box and each had a mallet included. This set is not colour coded, all bars are silver. The bars are of two lengths – longer and shorter ones with various lengths of metal bars on them.

You can also buy a version with a wooder box for easier storage available.


DIY Montessori tone bars keyboard

Besides the tone bars, you will need a keyboard. The original version consists of two wooden boards painted white and black. Like the tone bars, it’s quite pricy so instead of spending a fortune, we are going to make it DIY so that it fits the chime bars.

Materials:

Download and print the free printable template:

Download the free printable keyboard template and print it on a heavier A4 paper (160g/m2). Please, make sure you tick the Actual size option when printing, otherwise the Acrobat Reader might try to shrink the size of the document and you would end up with the keys smaller than the tone bars.

Montessori Tone Bars Keyboard DIY - print settings

Cut the inner edges and glue sheets together

There are three sheets of paper. On the first one, cut the right short edge with scissors or a paper trimmer, on the second one cut both short edges and on the third one cut the left short edge.

Put glue on the very last key on sheets one and two (it says glue on them) and put all three sheets together. Be careful not to mix the order up.

Montessori Tone Bars Keyboard DIY - step 2

Apply a self adhesive film

Cut two pieces of a self adhesive film. Carefully apply one of them on the front of the keyboard without making bubbles. Turn the keyboard over and apply the other piece on the reverse side.

Montessori Tone Bars Keyboard DIY - step 3

Cut along the edges

Carefully cut all remaining edges all around the keyboard.

Montessori Tone Bars Keyboard DIY - step 4

Done! Now you have a very durable keyboard than can be rolled for easier storage.

How to use the DIY Montessori tone bars keyboard

It’s a good idea to place the keyboard on a contrast colour surface. I used a Jigsaw puzzle roll. It’s green and doesn’t strain the eyes whilst the keyboard really stands out.

Place the tone bars on top of the keyboard so that the bottom part of the keyboard is visible.

Using Montessori Tone Bars DIY Keyboard

For storage, I put the keyboard on top of the green felt, rolled both together and secured with the straps that came with the puzzle roll.

Jigsaw puzzle roll secured with straps
Jigsaw puzzle roll secured with straps (the keyboard is inside)

Conclusion

You can easily replace Montessori tone bars with any good quality metallophone chime bars. All the other accessories you can make DIY using a printer, paper and laminator. Having a good set of tone bars is a good investment for anyone who wants to play music, learn music theory or for dancers who need to understand music better.

Next time I will show you how to learn all major scales using Montessori tone bar. It’s going to be very easy and you will learn it on your own without having to read boring books. Until then get your tone bars ready and practice with Montessori bells, the C major scale and the chromatic scale.

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