Tone Ladders (What are they & how do I use them?)

Tone Ladders (What are they & how do I use them?)

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What are Tone Ladders?

Tone Ladders are a great way of
visually representing pitch in an
intervallically accurate way –
that is so long as the intervals
between the notes are represented
accurately on the tone ladder.

For example, if a tone ladder looks like this: TOne ladder - wrong Deb or this: TOne ladder - wrong Deb 2

it is NOT representative  of the different intervals between the notes e.g. of a Major 2nd or a minor 2nd.

This type of tone ladder 1. Major Scale no seconds shows the exact intervallic relationship between the notes.

For example, do to re is a Major 2nd while mi to fa is a minor 2nd
as you can see by the distance between the notes on the ladder: 1. Major Scale - with 2nds

In fact for our “pitch challenged” students, a tone ladder can be clearer than the actual music staff itself for showing which intervals come where.

Blog tone ladders



There are many types of tone ladders.

The ones you see above using solfa note names in

circles – created for the Musicianship & Aural Training

series of books – have the advantage of being able to

be imposed on top of a keyboard thereby adding to

the visually clarity: 


Other formats of tone ladders such as: tone ladder correct 1

are great, particularly for younger students, as long as they are intervalically accurate.


Some tone ladders that I absolutely love are these: Jeri tone ladders
(click on the photo for more details) created by Musical Magic and available for download from the Teachers Pay
Teachers online store. In this particular set there are 12 downloadable and printable pages of visually (intervallically) correct tone ladders WITH HANDSIGNS and in great vibrant colours that would be great on your classroom wall! (Photo used with permission from the “Musical Magic TpT Shop”: Click on the photo to be taken directly to this product).


How do I use a Tone Ladder?

  1. Basic visual representation of notes:
  • Students can visualise scale degrees and pitch direction;
  • Can help with in tune singing;
  • Help’s students understand pitch placement;
  • Visual discovery of new melodic elements;
  • As a visual guide for learning a new song.
  1. Visual representation of intervals:Colourful ladder 2
  • Makes interval patterns come alive;
  • Visual support for when singing intervals in tone sets, trichords, scales, chords etc.
  1. Visual representation of scale patterns:Shows relationships between scales;
  • Visual aid to practicing and memorising intervals between notes in various scales;
  • Visual support for inner hearing activities within scales.
  1. Visual representation of chords:
  • Gives a visual point of reference when constructing triads and chords etc.
  1. Sight reading tool:
  • Teacher points to known and abstract melodic patterns for students to sightsing;
  • Teacher points to known and abstract melodic patterns, students sing back in letter names in chosen do;
  • Teacher points to melodic patterns for students to memorise then sing from memory in solfa or letter names;
  • Canon – teacher points to a melody and students sing two beats later;
  • Use different colours for different notes and allocate groups of students to only sing their particular colour.
  1. Composing and Improvising:
  • Students create melodies that the class sing by pointing to notes on the tone ladder.
  1. Other uses:
  • Visual support for aurally deriving the tone set of a song;
  • Inner hearing activities;
  • Use personal tone ladders during melodic transcription exercises for them to use/point to as the melody is being played. The melody is written only from memory;
  • Use tone ladders to teach new songs;
  • Assessment – students can point to tone ladders instead of singing out loud for melodic clever echo.

If you like the tone ladders created for the Musicianship & Aural Training series email Deb at for any you’d like and she’ll email them to you.

How do YOU use tone ladders?


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