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Percussion Bells & Chimes

A bell is a percussion instrument, usually made of copper, brass and tin.  

A ring of bells is a set of four to twelve, or more, bells used in change ringing, a method of ringing bells. 

A clapper within the bell creates the bell’s tone when it strikes the side.  A set of twenty-three bells, known as a carillon, spans a minimum of two octaves.  

Chimes, or tubular bells, are metal tubes of varying lengths which when struck, create their own tone.

Types of bell

The hand bell is traditionally a metal cup with a leather handle; larger bells can have wooden or plastic handles.  The clapper inside the bell creates the sound when struck against the side.  The way a bell is struck affects its tone and pitch. 

Chime bells, or tubular bells, are tubes of metal that vary in length.  The length of the tube dictates the tone created when struck with a rawhide- or plastic-headed mallet.  Chimes have a range of one and a half octaves and complex overtones.

Handbell ringing techniques

There are a range of bell ringing techniques that change how the bell sounds when it is rung.

  • Four bells – two handbells with the clappers at right angles to each other are held in one hand.  A variation on this is Shelley ringing but the clappers are aligned in the same direction.
  • Six bells – three bells can be held in each hand, or the third bell can be picked up.
  • Weaving – a succession of bells are played by changing the bell in each hand as needed.
  • Echo – can add increased volume to a handbell note that is sustained.
  • Gyro – the bell is held in a vertical position and then rotated to create a vibrating sound.
  • Plucking – the clapper head is pushed into the casting with the thumb and forefinger to create a staccato sound.
  • Shaking – the bell is rung back and forth rapidly, making the clapper strike both sides of the bell quickly, to create a continuous sound.
  • Tower swing – as the bell is rung, it is brought down and slightly behind the ringer, and back to the normal position, creating an echo effect.