The free vibrations of simply supported magneto-electro-elastic cylindrical shells are studied. A series solution is assumed in the circumferential and axial directions of the shell to preserve the three-dimensional character of the structure. The constitutive equations of the magneto-electro-elastic medium involving mechanical, electrical and magnetic fields are used to derive the finite element model for the system. The influence of the piezomagnetic effect on the structural frequencies of the cylindrical shell is studied. A comparison is made between a shell with a layered configuration and one with a multiphase system. The study is carried out for a typical shell with simply supported boundary conditions for different ratios of length to radius and radius to thickness to analyse the frequency behaviour. © 2006 IOP Publishing Ltd.