The Montessori Bells teach young children to discriminate between pitch and to identify notes on the musical scale. The bells allow little ones to learn about basic musical theory in a hands on, experiential way.
What Are the Montessori Bells?
The Montessori bells are a set of sixteen bells, all identical to the eye. There are two bells for each note on the octave. So two bells play C, two bells play D, and so on.
How to Use the Montessori Bells
The bells, like many other sensorial materials, follow a work progression that begins with matching. The very first task is to ring the bells and match them up with the other bell that rings the same note. There is no naming of notes yet. Many guides present this first task without saying a single word.
The next task is to line up the bells from lowest pitch to highest pitch. This presentation can be done almost wordlessly like the first, saying only “lower” and “higher” after ringing two bells.
The third task is to identify each note. At this point we name the bells, working with two or three at a time. As the child can easily identify the notes, we add more bells, until she can mix up all of the bells and name them all.
As kids advance, they can learn to play simple songs on the bells and they can work with a third set of bells with the sharps and flats.
When to Introduce the Montessori Bells
The sensitive period for musical instruction happens between the ages of 2 and 6, and children are generally ready for the Montessori bells around age 3.5.
From birth, children should be immersed in music. They need to be sung to and hear recorded music, and they need plenty of opportunities to explore musical instruments like a xylophone, hand drum, or a full-sized piano.
It’s important to provide authentic musical instruments and avoid electronic versions, which do not allow children to fully explore the real process of making sounds and music. Pushing a button can result in any recorded sound at any volume, while beating a drum or blowing on a harmonica lets children control the volume, pitch, and sound.
Montessori Bell Alternatives
There are a few similar materials that work almost as well as the Montessori bells. These kinds of materials can be used as substitutes (they are generally less expensive) or as supplement learning. If kids have Montessori Bells at school, they should not have them at home (this is true for all Montessori materials).
The diatonic bells are the most common alternative. These bells are a set of eight bells, of the same size and shape but different in color. Each bell plays a different note on the scale.
Matching notes isn’t feasible with this set but you could match with another instrument like a piano. If you do this, the first work should be ordering the bells from lowest to highest pitch.
That the bells differ in color helps some children learn to auditorily differentiate pitch, but for others, it is less helpful. Often little ones will simply memorize the color and rely on this visual cue to remember which note it is. This can be remedied by using a blindfold or having the child close his eyes. A xylophone with color coded keys or placing colored stickers onto piano keys are two other great alternatives or supplements to the bells. If using multiple materials, it is best to color code in a uniform way (C is always blue, D is always green etc).