Friday Find: Tone Matrix

Allow me to begin with an apology. There is no video for the Friday Find this week. Now allow me to offer an explanation – what I have for you is far more amazing than a video. Last week we featured Bobby McFerrin in our Friday Find. In that video Bobby talks about the power of the pentatonic scale, something every Kodaly teacher knows about. Then later that week a non-music major friend linked me to this cool flash tool she had found called a tone matrix.

What is a tone matrix? Well it is this!

So how does it work?

Playing the Tone Matrix

Each vertical row of the 16×16 Tone Matrix contains pitches of the pentatonic scale, starting with a low sol to the sol three octaves above. Each column represents one microbeat. Considering there are 16 columns one could assume they represent 16th notes of a measure if 4/4 time, but it can be a lot more fun if you forget about meter a bit when playing with the matrix.

You turn boxes on or off by clicking on them (pressing the space bar toggles all boxes off). You can also click and hold your mouse and drag over boxes to turn on multiple boxes in a line.

An invisible wave pulse over the matrix, passing over each column. As it does so any box in the column that is turn on will sound the appropriate tone. So if I turned the entire bottom row “on” then I would hear a repeated pulsing low sol. As I turn more and more boxes on I can create fantastic rhythms and patterns.

Here a matrix I built on another site (note, link will open in a new window so you might want to turn off your matrix first if you’ve been playing.)

Classroom Implications

Dictation or Transcription Tool

Imagine use the tone matrix as a tool with dictation. You can either let students use the matrix to create their own looping melody and then have them transcribe it into parts for a set of Orff instruments. Or you can create a pattern and play it form them and then have them try to recreate it on their own.

Composition Tool

What an easy way to have every student in a classroom regardless of special needs create a compelling and interesting composition. To test this theory I clicked randomly around the matrix, sometimes dragging, sometimes not, to see what would result. This is what I ended up with, and despite it not really having a clear melody or structure like my previous example it is still somewhat enjoyable to listen to, especially if you just relax and let it loop for a while.

SMART Board Compatible

Have SMART Board? Need a substitute lesson that will keep the students engage for the entire period? Fire up this website, load the tone matrix and let students take turns creating compositions or working as a team where they may each turn on two lights and turn one light off or turn on one light turn two lights off. Add simple non-pitched percussion to further enhance the ostinatos.

Do you have other great ideas for classroom use or perhaps you made a fantastic example you want to share? Share your link in the comments below. For a version of the tone matrix that allows you to copy and share links visit

The Friday Find is a weekly feature of and features videos (and other things) that would appeal to music educators, folk historians, and music lovers in general. You can view an archive of our Friday Finds here. If you would like to suggest a Friday Find please contact our Media Secretary via our contact form and include the subject Friday Find Suggestion.

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