Musical Movements

Our range of musical movements (music box mechanisms) are mostly of the traditional clockwork spring wound type that have a removeable key, usually fitted to the underside, that winds up the spring motor that drives the movement. We also offer novelty hand wound musical mechanisms which are simply powered by you turning the handle.

We have accessories that either come with the movements or are available as an optional extra that will enable the mechanism to play upon opening a box, or via a slide button and screws for fixing the movements in place. You'll see these optional extra's listed on each page if they are available for that specific movement.

Sizes of Movements

We usually refer to the movements as playing so many 'Airs' (Tunes), having a certain amount of notes (the number of tuned teeth on the playing comb) and cylinder size (length of the pinned cylinder). The 'tune' or 'air' number simply tells you the amount of tunes the movement has on it's cylinder or barrel, so a 1 'air' will only ever play one tune whereas a 3 'air' will play a maximum of 3 different tunes or 1 tune in 3 parts. The number of notes refers to the number of tuned teeth the comb has (the part that makes the sound), so refers to the actual musical scale compass the mechanism is capable of using. The often confusing point is that a movement of say 18 note does not only play a maximum number of 18 notes to make the tune, it means that it has 18 separate notes to use when it plays the tune. In fact even a simple 18 note mechanism can have between 60 & 100 notes actually played during just one revolution of the cylinder!

The important thing to understand is that as the note and cylinder size increases, so does the musical performance. So the larger the movement, the more elaborate musical arrangement and sound it can produce. For simplicity, if you think of a music box as a piano keyboard, a pianist will be able to play some nice simple melodies on a range of 18 keys, but think of the sound & music he can achieve when using 72 keys !

Mostly the small 18 notes with a 1" cylinder are used in Jewellery Boxes as these are just perfect to accompany a beautiful box. The larger 36 note movements that give a longer melody & more elaborate sound are superb for high quality jewellery boxes & pure music boxes. Customers who are really looking for a music box to listen to as a musical instrument should consider the larger movements of 36 note and over as these are designed for much longer listening pleasure.

Multi Tune Movements

The intricately pinned cylinders on the larger movements that have more than 1 tune have a cam gear on the side of the cylinder that moves once per revolution to enable the cylinder to move across one increment to line up the pins for the next tune and so on. These movements play each of the different tunes one after the other and always in the same sequence (eg. tune 1, tune 2 , tune 3, tune 1, tune 2, tune 3 etc.) Each tune normally plays for one complete revolution of the cylinder, so for example a 3 tune movement must revolve the cylinder 3 times to play all the tunes one after the other.

Paper Strip Movements

These hand cranked movements work from perforated paper strips. They have been specifically designed for you to custom make your own tunes by marking & punching the paper yourself. The movement works via a small wheel for each note, known as a star wheel, which enters the hole in the paper, rotating it as the paper passes through, which then plucks the movement comb (the part that makes the sound). We have recently introduced a new improved 30 note version which has a semi chromatic scale with the following notes : C, D, G, A, B, C1, D1, E1, F1, F#1, G1, G#1, A1, A#1, B1, C2, C#2, D2, D#2, E2, F2, F#2, G2, G#2, A2, A#2, B2, C3, D3, E3. The numbers indicate the octave - For example C2 is one octave higher than C1. This now enables the owner to produce almost all kinds of music for themselves. Extra blank strips are available to make more music if you so wish.

Common Music Box Terminology

Air - The French name for Tune. This is commonly used as the majority of early music boxes were usually manufactured in the French speaking parts of Switzerland.

Cylinder - The cylindrical part of the music box that has the pins set into it (this is the actual musical arrangement part) and when it revolves plucks the sounding part to create the music. The size of a music box is often referred to by the length of this cylinder.

Comb - The metal part that is plucked by the pins in the cylinder to actually create a sound.

Teeth - The individual parts of the comb that each play a note. The note number of a movement tells us how many teeth the mechanism has.

Butterfly or Governor - The part that rotates at high speed and gives an air resistance to regulate the speed of the cylinder revolution.

Spring or Clockwork Motor - The driving force of the movement - a flat spring is wound under tension, then releases under smooth control of the butterfly wheel to turn the cylinder.

Key - Usually a "T" shape fitted underneath the box to wind the movement.

Wire Brake - Usually used in lid activated boxes allowing a stopper wire to release the movement to play.

Slide Button - On music boxes that operate from a button at the front of the box. Slide the button to the right & the music will start to play; slide to the left & the music will stop at the end of the tune. This enables you to listen to the music box with the lid open or closed.

Example Images

18 Note Movement

18 Note Ballerina Movement

17 Note Movement

36 Note Movement

18 note (1.18)

18 note with Ballerina (1.18)

Miniature 17 note (1.17)

36 note (1.36 or 2.36)

50 Note Movement

18 Note Hand Wound Movement

30 Note Paper Strip Movement

72 Note Movement

50 note (2.50 or 3.50)

18 note Hand Wound (1.18)

30 note Paper Strip

72 note (3.50)

Technical Details

Movement Size

Length of Tune (Air)
(without repeating tune)

Total Playing Time until fully unwound (by repeating tune)

1.17

Miniature 17 note movement playing 1 tune for approx 8 to 10 seconds

Approx 30 to 40 seconds

1.18

1 tune on an 18 note scale approx 12 to 15 seconds melody length

Approx 3 to 4 minutes

30 Note Paper Strip

Each paper strip lasts about 30 seconds, but depends on how fast you crank the handle. Paper can be joined to make longer tunes.

Put the paper back in & keep turning the handle !

1.36

1 tune on a 36 note scale approx 25 to 32 seconds melody length

Approx 4 to 6 minutes

2.36

2 tunes on a 36 note scale approx 13 to 16 seconds per tune (2 tunes on one revolution of the cylinder, total playing time approx 25 to 32 seconds)

Approx 4 to 6 minutes

2.50

1 tune on a 50 note scale playing in 2 parts approx 30 to 40 seconds per part (1 tune per cylinder playing on 2 cylinder revolutions, total playing time approx 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes)

Approx 6 to 7 minutes

3.50

3 tunes or 1 tune playing in 3 parts on a 50 note scale approx 30 to 40 seconds per tune or part (3 tunes per cylinder, total playing time approx 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes)

Approx 6 to 7 minutes

3.72

3 tunes or 1 tune playing in 3 parts on a 72 note scale approx 30 to 40 seconds per tune (3 tunes per cylinder, total playing time approx 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes)

Approx 6 to 7 minutes

© N. J. Dean & Co.