Tone Bars

A Sensorial Introduction to Tone Bars

This is a very sensitive material, it is not easy to fix or replace them, they are similar to the bells but there is only one set so they cannot be paired, there is no external control only the ear. There are twenty-five tone bars, one for each tone of the two octaves, from middle C, unlike the bells they are not paired, there is no control. The bars stand on a single or split keyboard, form two octaves of a piano.  Middle ‘c’ (on the left) through cI to cII. Unlike the bells, it is not necessary to move them around the room. When the tone bars are arranged carefully at the back of the keyboard there is a portion of board revealed in front of the keys, so each tone bar can be isolated simply by drawing it forward, which should make it less likely for each bar to be damaged. They can be kept out on display for the children to use spontaneously.  The tones do not sound for as long as the bells, so no dampeners are needed, they are played with mallets with rubber ends.

Main Presentation

Material Description

  • Tone bars
  • Mallet
  • Major Scale Pattern Strip


“Remember when we used the bells, we had the white bells, the diatonic scale (or Major Scale) and later we used the black bells too, the chromatic scale, the bells had two tetrachords with a pattern of whole notes and half notes. With the tone bars we have twice as many notes, we have four tetrachords, with white and black notes of the Chromatic Scale.” Show the children the Major Scale Pattern Strip and say, “We are going to work with this, I will place it on my first tone bar and I will pull out every tone which corresponds to a number on the Major Scale Pattern Strip.” Draw forward the tone bars which correspond to numbers on the Strip. Now the metal part is fully revealed. Play the notes drawn forward, this gives the major scale of C. Play the scale up and down, this is recognisable to the children as it is the same as the bells, ask the children, “Does that sound like a Diatonic Scale?.”

Replace the tone bars.

Move the strip to the next octave, beginning with cI on the left. Pull out the tone bars again and play as before and ask the children if it sounds like a Diatonic Scale.

Invite the children to continue placing the first note on any tone bars, even black ones.


To show transposition of the scale from C.


The Major Scale is one of the Diatonic scales.

Formation and Reading of Major Scale of C

Material Description:

  • Tone bars
  • Mallet
  • Major Scale Pattern Strip
  • The Major Scale Working Chart (this shows the two octaves of the tone bars with a major scale pattern strip attached with string).
Major scale pattern strip in ‘C’ placed on the tone bars.


Say, ‘Today I am going to show you how we can write and read the Major Scales’, place the Major Scale Pattern Strip on the keyboard and pull out the keys as before, play the first octave up and down. Say, ‘I am going to show you how this looks to read’. Show the child the Major Scale Working Chart with the names of the notes and the small, attached Major Scale Pattern Strip. Place the small attached chart over the large chart just as the Major Scale Pattern Strip is over the keyboard, play each note in sequence and give it its name referring to the large chart.

Say, ‘When we play the Major Scale of C we must obey three rules, firstly the notes must be named in alphabetic order, the notation must be line and space in turn, (a note on a line, then a note on the space continued), Lastly we never use sharps and flats in this scale’.

Ask the child to place the Major Scale Pattern Strip where they like, to pull out the note and to play the tones with numbers, (the diatonic scale) up and down. Ask them to use the chart to identify the pattern.

Further Work:

Later arrange the chart and ask the child to call out the names of the notes as you play, as you do this discuss the rules, there are no sharps and flats, that the notes are in sequence, also give the name of the Major Scale you have played. The children can write a strip, naming the Major Scale at this point.

The children can use a grid to write this up after they have worked for a very long time.

Two Special Cases:

Sharp or Flat falls on a white note.

Ask the child to play the Scale of F # Major, by placing the Major Scale Pattern Strip and to arrange the working chart. Ask the child to read the notes from the Working Chart as you play and record and ask if we are following the rules.

F# Major  -  f#  a# b#  c# #d

There is a problem after ‘D’ the next key is ‘f’, so to solve the problem you can call it an E# so continue recording.
e# f#

This also happens if a sharp or a flat falls on a white note, we give the term ‘Enharmonic Change’

Using a Double Sharp (or double flat)

Placing the Major Scale Pattern Strip at #G Major and ask the child to play the scale and to arrange the working chart. Ask the child to read the notes from the Working Chart as you play and record and ask if we are following the rules.

G# Major - g# a# b# c# d# e#

There is a problem after ‘f’ the next key is ‘g’ but we need an ‘f’, the ‘f’ is very far away, the sharp makes it half a tone higher so we have an ‘f double sharp’ written like this ‘fx’ Continue recording.
‘fx‘ f#


We give this as an intellectual challenge for the children. This is for advanced children who discover this problem, it is not something imposed but an explanation to accompany a discovery.

Note, Full Material Description for the Tone Bars:

The tone bars are 25 tone bars covering two octaves.

  • Each bar is mounted in a black or white holder according to its sound.
  • There are 2 boards which are painted to resemble the piano keyboard on which to place the tone bars.
    • The Italian board has numbers painted on it from 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1;
    • the Dutch board has no numbers on the boards and leaves one more free (Ignore the numbers on the Italian board).

There is one mallet/striker

Major scale pattern strip which is teacher made to
fit the tone bars

  • (Dutch & Italian tone bars are different sizes).
  • On the back it says major scale pattern

Degrees of the Scale

Material Description:

  • Tone bars
  • Mallet
  • Chart showing the degrees of Scale
  • Discs with numbers and colours which correspond to the chart;
    • 1 and 8 – yellow
    • 2 – green
    • 3 – blue
    • 4 – purple
    • 5 – red
    • 6 – brown
    • 7 – orange


‘We have been working with our scales, do you know which this one is?’ Play the C-scale, ‘We know that these notes have names do you know them?. Musicians consider some of the tones of the scales more important than others. The first note is the most impotent, it is called the ‘tonic’, play this and place the disc on the bar. ‘The next note is the ‘supertonic’, play this and place a disc. The fifth note is the ‘dominant’, play this and place a disc. Return to the fourth note, saying, ‘This is the ‘subdominant’, play this and place a disc, say, ‘sub’ is Latin for under, it is one lower than the dominant’. Return the the third note,‘The third note is the ‘mediant’, play this and place a disc, ‘mediant means medium, it is in the middle of the tonic and the dominant.’, saying, ‘now you can see that the mediant is in the middle of the tonic and the dominant’. The seventh note is the ‘leading tone’, play this and place a disc, say, ‘it is leading up to the next tonic’. The eighth note is also a ‘tonic’, play this and place a disc. Return to the sixth note is the ‘submediant’, play this and place a disc.

Give a loose three period lesson asking the child to identify the tones

Further Work:

The child can place the Major Scale Pattern Strip, play the scale, place the disc and name them.


This is a language lesson given for a child with sufficient experience so she can access later work.
The dominant, subdominant, leading tone and tonic are the most important.

Play games including play a note, ask the child to give it’s name, to play the one beneath and identify it.

These names appply to all the major and minor scales.


This prepares for work with transposition later.


Material Description:

  • Tone bars
  • Mallet


Using the Major Scale (white tones) or diatonic scales

Join the children working with the Major Scale of ‘C’, play five notes in sequence and say, ‘a musician would call this distance a fifth, musicians have names for all kinds of differences between notes, lets try another’, play three notes, say, ‘They call this a third’

Invite the children to play fifths and thirds, count one, two, three, four, five with them they can be ascending, descending or in any order, give the terminology.

On other days give this.

Play the same note twice, say, ‘Musicians call this a prime’

Play two notes in sequence, say, ‘This is called a second, does it remind you of a scale?’

Play two white notes with a gap in between, say, ‘This is called a large second’

Later Work:

Recap the words the children know and relate them to the Degrees of the Scale. Play two tonics, number 1 and 8, count the numbers in between and say, ‘There are eight white tone bars, in Greek ‘octo’ means ‘eight’, play the notes 1 and 8 and say, ‘this has a special name it called an octave.

Tell the child that the names for the distances between the notes that they have been learning are called ‘Intervals’

Also give the terms, third, fourth, sixth and seventh


Encourage the child to play a certain distance and evaluate how harmonious they sound, here we use the terminology, knowledge of distance and develop the ear at the same time.

You can sing songs and make connections with this;

  • ‘Row your boat’ is a prime
  • ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ begins with an octave
  • a cookoo makes a descending third
  • ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ is a fifth
  • ‘Here Comes the Bride’ is a fourth.

Write an interval on paper and show the children that they must count every line and space in order to count the intervals.


Major and Minor Intervals

You can show the children that there are major and minor intervals, play two thirds with white tones, one has two black tones and another only one, the one with the greater distance is a major interval and the one with less distance is a minor interval. The prime, fifth and octave are perfect intervals.

Augmented and Diminished Intervals

This is only for chromatic scales, scales other than prime and octave can be diminished. You can augment a note by moving up to the next sharp or flat to make a slightly different sound.

Sequence of Major Scales – Sharps and Flats

Material Description

  • Major scale notation paper
  • Major scale working chart
  • Tone bars
  • Pencil and red pencil


First give the scales for the dichromatic scale.

The children work to produce many major scales. Say, ‘Today we will look at the order of the major scales, we will look at the order of the scales which have sharps’.

Set up C-major and play it.

‘I will show you how to record it on this special paper, do you notice anything about the paper?’ (it follows the octave and it has the same numbers as the Major Scale Pattern Strip) ‘I will show you how to write it on this notation paper’.

‘At the beginning, we will make our G-Clef. We will write out note ‘C’ on the ledger line and give this note the number  ‘1’’. As you draw the note encourage the children to draw an ellipse rather than a circle, drawing it and then filling it, encourage them to draw the notes exactly on the line or filling the space. Continue up the octave, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, following the Major Scale working chart.

‘We will now do the next scale, I said we would do this in a special order, it is called the circle of fifths (this pattern is key to music theory, revealing patterns in chords that go together). We will place our on the first note of the second tetrachord, start on the G Major’(move the Small Major Scale up by one fifth). Play this and identify it on the Major Scale working chart, then write the notes on the notation paper, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. Ask ‘On which degree of the scale did we find our sharp?’ (on the seventh). ‘It is the first time we found a sharp so I will put a red circle around it.’

To find a next one in the sequence we go to the first note of the second tetrachord (or go up a fifth). Play this and identify it on the Working Chart, then write the notes of D Major on the notation paper, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. Say, ‘We have two sharps this time’ circle F# and C#.

Now we look for the next in the sequence, which is ‘A’, record and circle the sharps.

Say, ‘You have now built a sequence of the major scales, this pattern is called ‘The circle of fifth’


The order of the major scales is G, D, A, E, B, F# and possibly C#, we do not count the first C as it contains no sharp. Make a rhyme to help the children remember.

Give the scales for the flats

Set up C-major and play it.

Now we are going to find the sequence of the major scales for the flats, it is also called the ‘circle of fifth’. Play the Major Scale of C, now we move up in fourths or down in fifths. I prefer to move the Major Scale Pattern Strip one fifth, to the right so that the first note is on ‘F’.

Now record the notes as before, following the rules of an octave, F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E. We have discovered a ‘Bb’,  circle it in red, comment that it’s position is a fourth, this is different than when we worked with the sharps.

Now move to the next Major scale, ‘Bb’ by going down in another fifth. Keep witing the octave and circling the flats.

At this stage the children can begin to record the names of the flats.


The order of the major scales is F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb

Exercise – ‘The Journey of the Notes’

Completed Major Scale Notation Paper
Degrees of the Scale Control Chart

Begin with the sharps, say, ‘We will look to see how long it takes for a note to go from a sharp to a flat, we will start with the first degree with the C, I will colour my paper in yellow’.

Colour the notes the first degree notes on the notation paper which are natural, in yellow as it is the colour used for the first degree of the scale on the chart. Stop when you reach a sharp or a flat. There are seven tonics which are natural.

The take the second degree notes and colour in with green, the natuaral notes until you reach a sharp of a flat, there are also seven supertonics which are natural.

Continue following the chart for all the degrees of the scale.

This draws the child’s attention to the seventh degree again and encourages exploration of the scales in another way. It draws the child’s attention to the multiples.

The same can be done for the flats.

Exercise – ‘The Bass Clef’

Material Description:

  • Tone Bars
  • Major Scale Pattern Strip
  • White Discs
  • Piano or Keyboard
  • Two green Stave boards


Say, ‘Remember we talked about clefs before, there is one clef you know, do you remember what we called it?’ (G-Clef) ‘We used it to play many scales.’

Ask the child to build the C-Major scale, play it and put the white discs with the names.

Ask the child to replay the C-Major scale and ask another child to represent it on one of the green boards, which are arranged one above the other with a G-Clef. Ask them to build the scale from low to high and then high to low, with all of the notes on the same green board.

Say, ‘We know that although the tone bars finish at lower ‘C’ in fact the notes continue, play the ‘C’ on the tone bars and the ‘C’ on the keyboard and the octave down from it. People decided that they wanted to play lower notes and write them, we can write lower notes on the green board.’ Ask the child to call out the next lower notes and place them on the lower green boards. Do this for the ‘D’, ’E’, ‘G’ and ‘F’, comment that it doesn’t work, the ‘F’ is not on the right line, it reads as a ‘D’ so we make this in the ‘F’ clef, we have to represent it with another sort of clef, and two dots. Continue placing the white discs to represent the notes, ‘E’, ’D’, ‘C’ and the represent them so for the ascending pattern ‘D’ to ‘B’. Conclude, ‘Now you know another Clef that musicians can use to write their notes, this is also called the Bass Clef.’


It is also possible to give this after the sensorial introduction to the tone bars, but introducing it here means that the children have more experience.

Minor Scales – Introduction

Material Description:

  • Tone bars
  • White discs
  • Minor Scale Pattern Strip 1 -2 3 – 4 – 5 6 – 7 -8
  • Major Scale Pattern Strip


Say, ‘So far we have worked with the Major scales, but there are other patterns that musicians can use.’ Show them the Minor Scale Pattern Strip, compare it to the Major Scale Pattern Strip so that the children can see it is different. Place it on the tone bars, at the beginning, even though it involves sharps and flats. Which are set out for C -Major and say, ‘I can see that some of these are the same and some are different, I have to change them’. Rearrange the keys so that the ones with numbers are pulled out and play the minor scale down, comment, ‘It sounds different, it sounds a little bit sad’.

Now place it on the second octave, first play the major scale so the children can compare it and say, ‘To place this without having sharps and flats I must place it one third note down’. Place it, pull out the keys and play, say, ‘This is how the natural minor scale sounds’, play it again, up and down.

Invite the child to play from any note they like and use it as they use the major scale.


Whenever you move the Minor Scale Pattern Strip one-third down from the Major Scale you will have the ‘Parallel Minor Scale, this has the same amount of sharps and flats as the major.

The second half of this presentation can be given later, after the children have had more sensorial experience.

Continue to explore the Minor Scale in the same way that the Major Scale is used.

John Thomson’s The Scale Speller is a useful book to explore all of this further.

Other Patterns:

The Harmonic Minor Scale:

This is similar to the minor till the sixth 1 – 2 3 – 5 6 – – 7 8

The Melodic Scale:

Here you must change the notes when it goes down, so there are two different sounds, ideally have strips with flaps so that you can cover and uncover different notes.

The Pentatonic Scale:

This scale has only five notes 1-2 – – 3 – 4 – 5

The Chains

Material Description:

  • Seven pieces of tetrachords in red to represent the sharps
  • Seven pieces of tetrachords in blue to represent the flats
  • Two tetrachords in Black to represent the C-Major which is without sharps and flats.


Say, ‘Today we will look at the material of The Chain, these pieces are all involved with sharps’, lay out the seven red pieces, ask the child, ‘How many notes are on these pieces?’ (4) and what did we call music with four notes in sequence?’ (tetrachords) and here we have two pieces in black, do you recognise the notes, what are they?’ (the C – Major scale).


Join the two black pieces. Ask, ‘How did we find the next scale?’ (we counted five notes, the first note on the second tetrachord is ‘g’) Ask the child to use what she knows to place the next scale (the child follows the pattern, g, a, h, c, the next tetrachord begins with a ‘d’ as this follows ‘c’). The child places d-g, say, ‘This is the scale of ‘g’ as this is the note we began with.’

Ask what is the next, she follows the sequence of the last tetrachord d, e, f#, g, this is followed by ‘a’, comment, ‘This the scale of ‘d’ as it begins with ‘d’. Continue until you have the whole chain of sharps together. The child can play this.


Now build the chain from the beginning of the C-Major, to build sharps we count back for places from the beginning of the C-Major to ‘f’, the sequence for the new tetrachord will begin with this letter, place the tetrachord which begins with ‘f’ it has the notes ‘f – b’, ask the child to read the scale (the first eight notes) and confirm that this is the order.

The next scale begins with the fourth note of the tetrachord ‘b’ so it is, ‘b – eb’.

Continue till all the pieces are used, the child can refer to the tone bars with the discs if necessary, when the chain is complete you have built to ‘Circle of fifth’


Material Description:

Horizontal strips with major scales, coloured horizontally and cut vertically.
Yellow or Green disc made of wood or paper with twelve notches.


Say, ‘Today we are going to talk about our Major Scales using this material called ‘The Star’, place the strips in a random order and say, ‘Some of these pieces have notes with sharps and others have notes with flats’, ask the children to divide them into groups with flats and with sharps, one strip is the ‘c major’ which has no sharps or flats.

Place the disc in the middle of the table and place the ‘C – Major’ in the 12 o’clock position, say, ‘We are going to start with the strips with the sharps’, do you remember how we find the next scale, we count up from the centre five on the ‘c major’ to get to ‘g’, now find the ‘g scale and place it in the 1 o’clock position. Continue until the 7 o’clock position.

Now turn to the flats, we count down five places on the ‘C Major scale till we reach ‘f’ and look for the scale which begins with ‘f’, place this in the 11 o’clock position. When you reach 7 o’clock continue laying the strips adjacent to each other, to share the space.

Then say, ‘Let’s investigate these strips at the bottom further’, take one of the strips from 7 o’clock and the adult takes the other. Ask the child to build the ‘C Major’ on the tone bars using the Major Pattern Strip, ask the child to play hers and then play yours. Comment that they are the same. Ask the child to play the tonic note of her strip, do this for your strip, comment that they are the same, see if she can make the connection.

Say, ‘The scales have the same notes even if they do not have the same name, these scales are called enharmonic scales’.

Key Signatures

Material Description:

Blank Music Notation paper
Completed Major Scale Notation Paper for sharps and flats


Say, ‘Today I will show you how musicians write key signatures’.

We know the ‘C – Major has no sharps and flats, so we will use another scale, what is the next one? The children can refer to their Completed Major Scale Notation Paper for sharps and flats to see that they must start with a ‘g’.

With the blank notation paper write a G – clef and the scale of ‘g’ until ‘f#’, say, ‘In order not to write an # every time I work in this key am going to write a # on the ‘f’ line at the beginning by the clef in red.’ When you have finished writing the scale write, ‘g major’ at the beginning of the line to the right of the clef.

Work in order through the scale, the next is the scale of ‘d’, say, ‘As I know I will have an ‘f#’ I will write the # by the clef’. Begin writing the notes for d and e, when you reach ‘f # comment that the # is already written, continue, you hit c#, now draw the C signature in red by the clef.

Continue working through the scales always beginning with the # you have previously found and as new ones as the new sharp emerges.

Again you notice that the new sharp always emerges on the seventh degree, it if further repetition of the pattern.

Later give the flats in the same way.

Transposition of Simple Songs

Material Description:

Song written on notation paper
Tone Bars with Major Scale Pattern Strip and coloured squares to represent the degrees.
Box of coloured degrees circles.


Say, ‘Today I will show you how to transpose a song’

Remove the notes for the C – Major and place the coloured squares on the bars which have been pulled forward, showing the degrees of the scale according to C – Major Scale.

Play the scale and tell the children the name of the song that is written on the notation paper.

Place the G-Clef on the green board.

Draw the child’s attention to the first note.

Play it and ask the child what degree of the scale the note corresponds to.

Place the degree on the green board.

Continue, using ledger lines as necessary.

When the song has been laid out on with degree circles play it.

Decide to choose the scale to make it higher, remove the degree circles and put the tone bars back.

Move the Major Scale Pattern Strip to ‘e’, pull out the tone bars and move the coloured squares onto the tone bars, finally play the scale of ‘e’.

Return to the first note of the song, which now begins with a ‘g#’ Place the discs as before which are now in the same pattern but higher up the scale, place the ‘#’ symbols where necessary by the discs on the green board.

Now transfer the new notes made by the discs onto the stave underneath the original music, beginning with a G-Clef and four sharps, so the child can compare the original with the music which has been transposed to a new degree.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply