Music Literacy in a Snap with Colors and Handchimes

A great start for any teacher would be to introduce music literacy to more students during this year.  If you have handchimes at your disposal, teaching music reading with the help of colors couldn’t be simpler! At ChimeWorks, we have developed tools for teaching young children to develop eye-hand coordination using colors and symbols and then, systematically moving on to colored-coded notes on the staff and ultimately reading handchime/handbell notation.

We begin by using colors that are closely correlated to those used in Boomwhacker® and KidsPlay® systems.  Therefore, one will be able to use our lesson plans with handchimes and/or Boomwhackers and KidsPlay bells to teach music literacy.  Sensitivity is given to the use of colors alone due to the statistics that 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females suffer from color vision deficiency.  Along with a select color for each pitch we have allocated a shape modeled closely to those used in shape-note singing.

Coupled, these symbols are referred to as Icons – non-traditional symbols used to notate music.   They allow students to quickly “read” music without the worry of not knowing standard musical notation.   They also allow students to quickly express themselves at an early-learner stage with known symbols rather than struggling with music notation.  The use of icons develops eye-hand coordination rapidly allowing students to quickly adapt to numbers, pitch names, solfege and then standard music notation.

ChimeWorks has developed Colored Bands which can be wrapped around the handchime tube so that each student can identify a pitch with a color.  In the case of vision deficiency, the shape may also be drawn on to the band.  These bands are available for Malmark, Inc. and be found by clicking here.  Colored bands can be an effective tool in the classroom when denoting pitches and chords.  Using the ChimeWorks Icon Chart, each pitch is assigned a color.  By wrapping the appropriate colored band around the shaft of the handchime tube at the base, you can effectively indicate which handchimes are assigned to pitches or chords.

Since icons are used with non-music readers, they can be utilized with younger children.  These same children may not yet be literate and understand how to track from left to right.  We suggest that great success will be met when the icon chart is presented through a computer-generated slideshow presentation or interactive whiteboard so that the teacher may point to each shape tracking for the students in tempo and rhythm.

Once the students master the melody using icons, they may continue with the Chroma-note® (colored note head) score. Older students may meet success by just having the location of the pitch on the staff on the note designation label which is standard on all brands of handchimes and may be able to move quickly to the handchime score which is in standard music notation.

Icon lesson plans may be found here on the ChimeWorks website.  By introducing these easy to teach lessons, your students will color their world with music through handchimes.

Using Handchimes in the Classroom

You, like many general music teachers, may have a set of handchimes in the instrument cabinet of your classroom that have been sitting for years. Now’s the time to open them up and get them into the hands of your students and begin reaping the benefits of using handchimes in the classroom.


Using handchimes in the classroom offers bountiful benefits in teaching music skills that will bring excitement to you and your students. Handchimes create a beautiful tone – they have been said to create the purest tone known to mankind. Children do not have to master the instrument to create this beauty – they hold the instrument and snap their wrist – no worries about embouchure, fingerings and being in tune – the beauty is instantaneous using the wrist to create the sound and the arm to sustain it.

The music skills that can be taught by ringing are many. Students can learn about note duration, rhythm, harmony and melodic line though the mental and physical aspects of ringing. Through ringing, students will increase their independent thinking, listening skills, attention span, physical coordination, self-discipline and personal expression. They also gain positive social and emotional skills through collaboration and the development of self-esteem. Working with a group of ringers teaches tolerance, patience, support and cooperation to name a few.


Using handchimes in the classroom does not require all the equipment that goes along with a handchime ensemble – tables, foam and music. Distribute one handchime to each student and allow them to sit at their desks, sit in a circle on the floor or stand. With a chime in hand, the students can learn to ring and damp, ring note durations, scales, chords and melodies all by rote.

If you desire to start slowly, use your handchimes along with your Orff instruments allowing students to double ostinati on handchimes. If Kodaly is your method, use the handchimes to intone a song by ringing a chord, accompany a modal melody by choosing the pitches of the mode on handchimes and have them ring randomly throughout the piece. If you have students who are not successful in playing the recorder, have them ring chords on the handchimes to accompany the melody that the students on recorders are playing. The incorporation of handchimes into your existing lesson plans is easy and will embellish your teaching!

Once you have experienced the positive benefits of using handchimes with your existing lesson plans, expand your curriculum by engaging your students with more ringing! Through the ChimeWorks® Online Resource Community at, you have access to over a hundred lesson plans using icons, chords and ostinati. Use these lessons to accompany singing or to teach music literacy. Add in non-pitched percussion for students to improvise rhythms along with the singing and handchime parts. All your students will have hands on experience!


Begin or finish the school year with ringing success – it’s never too late in the academic year to introduce handchimes. Because of the instant success in creating beauty of tone by ringing a handchime, your students will have the opportunity to jump right into the music!