Freenotes Harmony Park

Freenotes Harmony Park

Freenotes Harmony Park is a company based in Durango, Colorado, that produces musical instruments suitable for outdoor playgrounds, schools, museums, hospitals, community gardens, and other outdoor settings. Freenotes are an ensemble of real musical instruments with distinct pure tones that blend into soothing sounds. These percussion instruments are xylophones, chimes, and marimbas that are perfectly tuned and make musical expression accessible to everyone. Everyone can play Freenotes, regardless of musical training, and anyone can step right into improvisational play.

Drawing upon years of experience with music theory and an analytical mind, Grammy Award winning musician Richard Cooke created this unique variety of instruments that ensure musical success from the very first note. No other system of musical instruments offers this opportunity – especially to a novice.

Richard had been playing and reading music since he was a boy. However, it wasn’t until he began playing by “ear” that he realized the sheer joy of music and felt that anyone should be able to create music without formal training. Along with Paul Winter, a Grammy award winning saxophonist, they worked on a plan for a “music camp” for adults. Richard designed and built musical instruments that accomplished musicians as well as novice musicians could enjoy playing. His quest took him to many countries, and he visited many cultures where music is played by almost all of the inhabitants. Freenotes instruments are based on the gamelan instruments of Java and Bali.1

Richard next took on the task of building these sculptural, percussion instruments for outdoor use in playgrounds, parks, and community projects. He had to design a musical instrument that would have the highest quality sound and still be tough enough to withstand children’s play and the elements.

All Freenotes instruments are in the category of percussion instruments because they are played with mallets. The ensemble is created so all instruments play together and any combination of notes is pleasing. Freenotes designs incorporate four simplified musical principles that ensure a player's enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as those listening nearby.

Each instrument has a different combination of a few notes that work together creating harmonious and complementary notes. The simplified tonal system is what allows for untrained musicians to improvise beautiful music, played totally by ear.

Freenotes are easy to play. Hand-eye coordination either comes naturally or is easily developed for people of all ages. Each instrument has a unique mallet that is designed to produce the fullest sound from each note. The instruments are placed at an optimum 30-degree angle for maximum ease of play by children, adults, elders, and people with physical and cognitive challenges.

Freenotes musical instruments come in assorted shapes and sizes and are made from different materials in order to achieve the variety of tones. For sound quality and durability, most Freenotes are made from aluminum and fiberglass.

These sculptural instruments include: tuned bars, resonators, chimes, drums, and bells. Tuned bars are flat pieces mounted over a resonator that vibrates when the note is struck. Chimes are long cylindrical tubes that hang in the air. Drums are long hollow cylinders, tuned to a specific pitch, with heads that are struck either with a mallet or an open hand. The bells are convex shaped, reminiscent of big mushrooms.

Another important feature of the design is that the tones sustain for five seconds or longer. Players can hear the harmonies that are created as they strike the different notes allowing for a layering of soothing sounds that are sophisticated and surprisingly delightful.2

  • 1. “About Us.” Freenotes Harmony Park. < > 20 June 2012.
  • 2. Cooke, Christy. Personal correspondence to Playground Professionals. 18 June 2012.