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Tubular bells
A set of chimes made by Yamaha
Percussion instrument
Other names
  • Chimes
  • orchestral chimes
  • orchestral bells
  • tubular chimes
Classification Keyboard percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification111.232
(Sets of percussion tubes)
Playing range
C4–F5 standard; extended range can include Bb3–G5, bass F3–B3, but can vary
Tubular bells being played as part of a larger musical arrangement.
Adams Bass Chimes, range F3–B3

Tubular bells (also known as chimes) are musical instruments in the percussion family.[1] Their sound resembles that of church bells, carillons, or a bell tower; the original tubular bells were made to duplicate the sound of church bells within an ensemble.[2] Each bell is a metal tube, 30–38 mm (1+141+12 in) in diameter, tuned by altering its length. Its standard range is C4–F5, though many professional instruments reach G5. Tubular bells are often replaced by studio chimes, which are a smaller and usually less expensive instrument. Studio chimes are similar in appearance to tubular bells, but each bell has a smaller diameter than the corresponding bell on tubular bells.

Tubular bells are sometimes struck on the top edge of the tube with a rawhide- or plastic-headed hammer. Often, a sustain pedal will be attached to allow extended ringing of the bells. They can also be bowed at the bottom of the tube to produce a very loud, very high-pitched overtone.

The tubes provide a purer tone than solid cylindrical chimes, such as those on a mark tree.

Chimes are often found in orchestral and concert band repertoire. It rarely plays melody, instead being used most often as a color to add to the ensemble sound. It does have solos occasionally, often depicting church bells.[2]

In tubular bells, modes 4, 5, and 6 appear to determine the strike tone and have frequencies in the ratios 92:112:132, or 81:121:169, "which are close enough to the ratios 2:3:4 for the ear to consider them nearly harmonic and to use them as a basis for establishing a virtual pitch".[3] The perceived "strike pitch" is thus an octave below the fourth mode (i.e., the missing "1" in the above series).

Classical music

Tubular bells first appeared between 1860 and 1870 in Paris. The Englishman John Harrington patented tubular bells made of bronze. Arthur Sullivan may have been the first composer to score for tubular bells in the orchestra, in 1886. In the early 20th century tubular bells were also incorporated into theater organs to produce effects.

Tubular bells as a substitute for church bells were first used by Giuseppe Verdi in his operas Il trovatore (1853) and Un ballo in maschera (1859) and by Giacomo Puccini in Tosca (1900).

Passages in classical music:

Chimes/tubular bells

In popular music

Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield named his first album Tubular Bells, best known for providing the musical theme to The Exorcist film (1973). At the beginning of his solo symphony recording project in 1972, Oldfield discovered a set of tubular bells at The Manor Studio in Oxfordshire, England, and asked new owner Richard Branson for permission to use them. The chimes were played by Oldfield on parts of the album, and they supplied the album name. Branson's company Virgin Records benefitted tremendously as Oldfield's album sold millions of copies; this also contributed to Branson's personal wealth and industry leverage.[4]

Other uses

Tubular bells can be used as church bells, such as at St. Alban's Anglican Church in Copenhagen, Denmark.[5] These were donated by Charles, Prince of Wales.

Tubular bells are also used in longcase clocks, particularly because they produce a louder sound than gongs and regular chime-rods and therefore could be heard more easily.

See also


  1. ^ The Study of Orchestration, 3rd, Ed., Samuel Adler, W. W. Norton & Co, Inc, (2002).
  2. ^ a b Blades, James; Holland, James (20 January 2001). "Tubular bells [chimes, orchestral chimes] (Fr. cloches; Ger. Glocken, Röhrenglocken; It. campane, campanelle)". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  3. ^ Rossing, Thomas D. (2000). Science of Percussion Instruments. Singapore: World Scientific. p. 68. ISBN 9789810241582. OCLC 45679450.
  4. ^ Moon, Grant (25 May 2020). "Mike Oldfield on Tubular Bells: 'There's been nothing like it, before or since.'". Prog. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  5. ^ "About the Church Building". St. Alban's Church. Retrieved 21 September 2013.