Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Early Pentatonic Instruments

I was browsing a catalog I received in the mail to see if anything caught my eye for the children and I stumbled across a kinder lyre. It is a small stringed instrument with only seven strings. It is tuned to a pentatonic scale (more on that in a bit) so that the children can pluck any sequence or combination of strings and produce a musical result. I was intrigued. First, I liked the concept of the pentatonic scale. Second, I liked the idea of bringing another instrument (besides the piano which is rarely used) into the house.

Then I glanced at the price. Since this was a catalog of children's toys, I expected the lyre to be priced like a toy. Let's just say that it wasn't, and leave it at that. I tried to put it out of mind, but I found myself thinking about it over the next several days. I decided that I wanted to get a pentatonic instrument for our household and began to research in earnest.

Pentatonic Scale

(I am not a great musician or an expert at musical theory, so take this information as a novice's summary of the information she has researched. If you know more about this and think something is incorrect, please send me an email so I can update this post.)

The typical scale most of us are used to is a diatonic scale with 7 notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, G). The pentatonic scale uses only five of those notes. In an instrument tuned to the key of D, those notes would be D, E, G, A, B. Eliminating two notes from the diatonic scale results in a scale that leaves only harmonious combinations of notes. This makes an instrument tuned to a pentatonic scale an excellent choice for a first instrument for a child.

Choices for a Pentatonic First Instrument

As I was researching pentatonic instruments I found three main options: the lyre (the 7 or 10 string version is often called a kinder lyre), the glockenspiel (a metal xylophone), and the pentatonic recorder.

Kinder Lyre

A kinder lyre is a small stringed instrument. The ones I looked at had either 7 or 10 strings tuned to d-e-g-a-b-D-E (-G-A-B). The music is played by plucking the strings. Here are the four kinder lyres I looked at:
  1. Harps of Lorien-Kinder Lyre
  2. Auris Pentatonic Lyre
    Here is a video that features the auris pentatonic lyre.
  3. Eyster Meadow Lyre
    This lyre in this video is an Eyster Meadow Lyre.
  4. Song of the Sea Kinder Harp target="_blank"
    Here's a sound sample of this lyre.

Pentatonic Glockenspiel

A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument similar to a xylophone. This Auris Pentatonic Glockenspiel has a beautiful tone.

Here is a video of a duet played on two of these.

Pentatonic Recorder

A pentatonic recorder is a woodwind instrument that is similar to a flute tuned to a pentatonic scale. This Choroi Pentatonic Recorder sounds beautiful.
This is a video that shows a Choroi Pentatonic Recorder (you need to skip to about 4:45 in to see it).

Which early pentatonic instrument should I choose?

In my completely novice opinion, the glockenspiel seems to be the most accessible for very young children followed by the lyre and finally the recorder. If I were making a decision on which one to get for our family (a 2 1/2 year old and a just turned four year old) I would definitely choose the glockenspiel.

I wanted the lyre though. I was more excited about playing the lyre myself, and so I chose to get that one. I think the children will be able to play it a little, and they will be able to listen to me as I learn a new instrument. Perhaps we can get a glockenspiel too later and play multi-instrument pentatonic duets. Hmm. I'm probably getting ahead of myself a little.


  1. I am a music therapist and I agree with your hierarchy of accessibility for these three instruments. If you are looking for a cheaper option and one that is more accessible for children, I would try desk bells or tone bars (for example, Basic Beat 8 note Resonator Bells). The child versions usually come in a full diatonic set (key of C). You can leave the F and B out for a C pentatonic scale or leave the C and F out for a G pentatonic scale. For young children I prefer the ones that are color coded. You can fade the different color notes as the child becomes better at reading music. Boomwhackers are another fun option for children.

  2. Thanks for the input Linda. I didn't even think about hand bells (minus two) used as a pentatonic scale. That's a great idea. And the colored ones are a great idea to get little ones started on reading music.

  3. I was looking at the Auris lyre and the Song of the Sea kinder harp for my 4 year old daughter. Does anyone know how they compare?


Web Analytics