Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Tonette (Music)

Wikipedia Entry

Music may be the food of love, and most kids love music from very early on.  And one of the big thrills is being able to make your own.  If you were growing up in the 50s, if you learned music in elementary school, you probably learned by playing the tonette.*

The tonette was invented in 1938 by Zienger Swanson of the Chicago Musical Instrument Company** in 1938 and quickly caught on in schools and in other places where a simple musical instrument was in demand.

The tonette was a plastic flute.  You blew in one end, which had a mouthpiece like a whistle. There were seven holes on the top (for your fingers***) and one on the bottom (for your thumb), so you could play a bit more than an octave.  Fingering was simple: the scale was played by lifting one finger at a time to get to the next note.  Thus Middle C require you cover all the holes, D would be all but the lowest, E would have the two lowest holes open, and so forth. 

The music was simple, but most kids loved being able to play “Three Blind Mice.” It has occasionally shown up in professional contexts; it can be heard in the background in Cream’s “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” played by Felix Pappalardi.

The instrument faded in popularity in the 60s.  Supposedly, it’s still being used now, but I can’t find any indication online that anyone is selling them, other than an occasional one on eBay.

*Or the Flutophone.  Our school switched at some point: I used the Tonette, but my brothers used the Flutophone.  Tonettes were black; Flutophones white with red trim, and tonettes didn’t have a bell (though they eventually added one; in both cases, the bell was for show and had nothing to do with the sound).

**Manufacturer of Gibson guitars for many years.

***The left pinky was placed in a ridged circle to hole the instrument.  The right thumb had the same sort of arrangement.


Lg customer care number said...

Super helpful post. Thank you,

Zarathustra said...

I grew up in the 50's.... my favorite musical intrument was the ''Kazoo''.

Anonymous said...

I have a vintage finch horn and Tonette horn in great condition. They were my mom's. Paient numbers on back. Willing to sell.

Anonymous said...

The Tonettes are still sold by Restoration Hardware for $12.95 PLUS TAX YOU CAN GET YOURS THERE.

Anonymous said...

Would like to buy one, is it possible may I get an address or email or website please

Diana Korchien said...

Hi Anonymous, I have one that belonged to my mother who was a music teacher. Hers definitely dates to the early 1940s latest, as she had a very brief career teaching! Also have the booklet of melodic exercises plus the instruction/care leaflet. Can sell if you still want one. Find me on Facebook under the name here.

James Langdell said...

The same design as the Tonette was sold in more recent years as the Selmer Song Flute.

Unknown said...

I still have mine from the 1950's. One person commented that they were all black, but mine is a pearly green.

Anonymous said...

Our Tonettes were handed out randomly before our first class and I got a bright yellow one. I had my heart set on the black because to me it looked more like a clarinet and not a toy.

Anonymous said...

I still have my Tonette from the 1950s, also--and it is the standard black one! I also have the red vinyl case which snaps shut, as well as the music book AND the folding cardboard stand for the music book!! Of course, the stand has kind of seen better days, but it still works!!

Wes said...

I have my black one...from 1969. I had to show skill with it before being allowed to move up the food-chain to a clarinet!

Unknown said...

Mine is that pearly green that someone else mentioned. I think we bought in in 1958. So nice to read these posts with all the memories!

Anonymous said...

I have my aunt's . She was in grade school 1934 - 1940. Almost perfect no teeth marks.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chuck,

You write:

"The left pinky was placed in a ridged circle to hole the instrument. The right thumb had the same sort of arrangement."

These rings can also be found on the Gretsch ocarina, built for the army in the second world war. In the instruction booklet for this instrument is written that, when you want to play two higher notes (e and f) you should open these holes.
Possibly the circles on the Tonette may be used in the same way.

timbo said...

Dude the ridged circles haven't got a hole.
they are there purely as a place to rest your right little finger and the left thumb beneath.
Gretch would be referring to the hole underneath that is covered by the right thumb.
the Tonette has seven holes on the top for the seven musical notes obviously.
to play Tonette you cover the first three holes with three fingers on your right hand
and cover the last four holes with the fingers on your left hand.
All holes covered gives a C and then as each finger is raised the notes follow
the left hand four fingers which play D E F G this G is the hole under the left index finger.
and the right hand three fingers play A B C this C is the hole under the right index finger.

Unknown said...

I just picked up a Tonette from E Bay, I had my first one i am guessing in the late 40's, long since missing. So who knows never to late at 76 ! all kinds of info on line!

Anonymous said...

You can cut open the holes to extend the range.