Bells & Chimes

Quick guide to popular Bells & Chimes

The Bells & Chimes

The bell chime came from the latin “cymbala”. It is a set of musical bells tuned in a diatonic scale of seven notes with some sharps and flats. They are stationery bells that have a range of 3 octaves or higher.  The Bell chime was originally used to signal imminence of the hour right before the hourly strike of a church bell or town hall bell.

Bells are sounded by the striking of a clapper that makes them move quickly back and forth or if fixed, makes them vibrate creating sound waves through the air.

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History of the Bells & Chimes

Chinese stone bell chimes in the Shang Dynasty at around 1776 BC were the first known chimes, and marble slabs suspended on wooden frames and struck by a mallet. Then bronze bells appeared in the Zhou Dynasty around 1100 BC followed by the Bianzhong in the Han Dynasty of 206 BC. They were actuated by striking the lips of the bell. Tunes were reset to coincide with the ruler’s universal presaging. And so from China, bell chimes became popular in neighboring countries.

But bells were used for melodies too. In the 13th century, ropes attached to clapper were pulled. And in the 18th century, a chime stand with lever or pedals was actuated.  In the 19th century, small beehive bells similar to Chinese bells appeared in Western monasteries.  These small bells proved to be helpful for religious and meditative eastern practices and many a monk would own one.

Nowadays, a keyboard made of ivory using electricity is being used. Electricity enabled the bells to be tuned. When bells swinging an arc are rung, they create a chime. But automatic Belgian clocks created harmony because of their inner tuning. Thus was conceived the Organ Chimes. Thus bell making, casting, tuning, sounding and ringing became known as the art of Campanology for a bell in Latin was called “campana”.  In campanology, a type of performance using bells by ringing them and demonstrating duration, complexity and quality is known as a peal.  When the reverberating sound of a bell is prolonged and loud, it is known as “thunder” or laughter.

The Chime Tune most popular in Britain is the “Westminster Quarters for Great Saint Mary’s Church, composed at the Cambridge University by William Crotch in 1793,. It had 4 basic notes and a combination of these notes. Subsequently, the same tune was used in 1859 for the Houses of Parliament in London. Here are other well know chimes worldwide as listed in the wikipedia:

  • The Arma Sifton bells in the International Peace Garden in North Dakota comprising of 14 bells given by the Central United Church of Brandon, Manitoba in 1972.
  • The chimes at the St. Peter the Apostle parish in New Brunswick, New Jersey which has 9 bells and installed in 1870
  • The Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market chimes comprising of 17 bells cast in 1997
  • The Highland Arts Theater chimes in Sydney, Nova Scotia that is sounded regularly

The various tunes of bells enabled the creation of clock jacks marking the passing hours.  10 to 20 bells played from a wooden keyboard or clavier created popular music in Europe in the mid 18th century.  Then in the early 1900s churches, schools, town halls and towers started installing chimes that were actuated by pulling roped attached to clappers.


The Carillon

A carillon is a musical instrument comprising of a set of 23 bronze carillon bells fixed in chromatic order and great when sounded together as they produce concordant harmony.  Carillons have been utilized in the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Couperin and Corelli. Carillon or the Quadrilionem in Latin is a French adaptation that pertained to 4 fixed clock bells. In the 14th century, a weight driven drum was added to the clockworks that was wired to hammers that in turn struck the bells. They are played from a keyboard by a variation of touch and struck with a hand half-closed. This was how town or church clocks were actuated.


Purchasing Bells & Chimes

Bells & Chimes are small items that won’t cost the buyer more than $50 dollars. It may be purchased online or in a music store or even in a yoga or Buddhist store. The important thing to do is to sound the chime and compare with others in the store. Since the bells are not too big, most bells will have some kind of artistic design embossed on them. They usually aren’t too fragile compare to bigger belled horns that break when sat down on.

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