Using Pitched Bells as an Interactive Music Tool for Sounds of Intent Assessment

This video clip shows an extract from a session at ‘Abbots Lea at Matthew Arnold’ – a specialised assessment service for pupils aged 3 – 7 years with complex needs.

The sessions we delivered in this setting were primarily to introduce the staff at the centre to the Sounds of Intent (SOI) framework, a musical development monitoring tool that is described in detail at However, as the centre was not experienced in delivering music sessions, we also delivered weekly music sessions, both to stimulate activity that could be assessed through the SOI framework, and also to introduce simple musical activities that the centre staff could continue to deliver after our project had finished.

As the children at Abbots Lea have a wide variety of needs and abilities, the challenge was finding activities and tools that were flexible enough to engage everyone and would also provide responses that could be assessed using the SOI framework. We found that a set of pitched bells – coloured, numbered and fixed in pitch order – is a wonderful instrument that enables easy engagement but can facilitate a wide variety of activities from the simple to the complex, and assess a range of musical elements.

In this video clip Marcus, a very able child, is playing a musical game with the bells. First he copies my pattern – he has three clues to guide him: the visual of my hand on the bells, the number that I sing and the pitch at which the number is sung. When I am momentarily distracted, Marcus continues with a musical pattern, continuing to sing the numbers at their correct pitches. From there I remove the visual clues and Marcus responds to just the sung numbers.

Looking at the SOI framework, from this clip Marcus could be seen to be working at Level 3 in the Reactive element – ‘Responds to simple patterns in sound’; Level 4 or maybe even 5 in the Proactive element – ‘Recreates distinctive groups of musical sounds and links them coherently’/’Recreates short and simple pieces of music; potentially of growing length and complexity; increasingly ‘in time’ and ‘in tune” (as the end section that he imitates is part of a song that we had been singing each week); and Level 4 in the Interactive element – ‘Engages in dialogues using distinctive groups of musical sounds’ (due to his continuation of the pattern without my prompting).

These bells can be used to explore pitch, rhythm, harmony, composition, improvisation, imitation/mirroring, call and response, and much more besides, as well as providing a way for children to start to visually comprehend pitch order and relationships. And while the clip here shows a relatively complex interaction, the bells can also be very effective in the most basic sound-based interactions, and a good way for a child to start exploring music.

In terms of using the SOI framework, this means that these bells could be used to observe engagement from the most basic level – ‘encounters sounds’, ‘makes sounds unwittingly’ – through to the most complex – ‘seeks to communicate through expressive performance, with increasing technical competence; creates pieces that are intended to convey particular effects’.

Another example of the bells in use at Abbots Lea is shown here: