Tubular Bells or ‘Chimes’

Courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins

Pitch range

Tubular bells pitch range, courtesy of Hannah Whale
A player of tubular bells, courtesy of Tony Morrell

A player of tubular bells

Tubular bells, or chimes, are a row of metal tubes hung in order of length (in two rows) from a horizontal frame. The shorter ones sound higher notes; the longer ones sound lower notes.

If you line up drinking glasses of different sizes, and tap them lightly with a spoon, they all sound different notes. The smaller ones are higher and the bigger ones are lower. Try it! It’s the same idea with these tubes.

To play them

You strike the very top of the chimes with a bell mallet. A pedal can help to sustain or deaden the sound.

A traditional bell

A traditional bell

The sound

They make the sound of bells. Bells have been used for years to ring out at weddings, call people to church, or as a warning of attack. But traditional bells are big and heavy, so in the 1880s tubular bells were invented for the orchestra. They could be taken easily from place to place, but could still imitate the sound of big bells in a belfry.

Composers often use them to sound like church bells.

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 What is the other name for tubular bells?

a. Dead ringers
b. Chimes
c. Dangles

 What do you use to strike the bells?

a. A spoon
b. A fist
c. A mallet

 What do they sound like?

a. Guns
b. Wind
c. Bells

 What is the name of the Overture by Tchaikovsky that uses tubular bells?

a. 1812
b. 1066
c. 1945

 Who would play the tubular bells?

a. A cellist
b. A flautist
c. A percussionist

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Selected Tubular Bells Extracts

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
1812 Overture, Op. 49 (extract)

Can you hear the pealing of the bells in the background?

Performers: Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar

Taken from Naxos 8.555923