Saturday, July 23, 2011

A bit about bells. Part 1

A while ago, someone commented that they didn't see how the work done in the Primary class with the Montessori bells can be called music.  I've been mulling over that comment for some while because it is obvious to me that when the bells are presented properly they can be nothing other than music. It is true that the very first presentations are simple matching exercises but as a child progresses through the material, notation and composition are learned.

The material consist of a series of bells representing the whole and half tones of one octave. There are two sets: one white (the control) and one brown.  They are part of the sensorial materials and each bell differs from the others in only one quality.  In other words, the brown bells are all the same size and shape but each produces a different note. (I have singled out the brown bells here because there are some sets in which the bells of the white set are different sizes.)   A child must match the brown bells to the white bells by ear since there are no visual clues.

The bells sit on a white, black and green board  - the white representing whole tones and the black representing half tones. 

As with every other activity, the children begin by learning how to use and handle the material.

The next step is learning how to match three bells.  Slowly the children work their way up to matching all 8 bells.  There are lots of games that can (and should) be played during this matching period to reinforce a child's memory of the different pitches, develop the ability to hold a sound in one's head, and to hear the difference between high and low notes.  From there, the children practice grading the bells and learning the major scale pattern (whole steps, half steps and the tetrachord).

Here the bells are being graded from lowest to highest without using the white bells as a guide.


As a child works sensorially with the bells he or she will eventually come to the last sensorial lesson.  This is the Name Lesson and it entails singing the name of the note as it is played.  For example,  the teacher might choose c & g.  She will strike one and sing "c, this is c", mute the bell and then invite the child to sing the note.  Then the other bell is played/sung "g, this is g" and again, the child is be invited to sing the note. Over time, the teacher and child will review and add more notes until all 8 have can be identified by ear. 

More to come in part 2................

The Montessori bells are one of my favourite materials in the classroom.
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