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Tubular bells

Tubular bells
Chimes/Tubular Bells (by Yamaha)
Other names Chimes
Classification idiophone
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.232
(Sets of percussion tubes)
Playing range
C4-F5 standard; extended range can include C4-G5, bass F3-B3, but can vary
Deagan, Adams, Yamaha, Jenco, Premier Percussion
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; 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 (1¼–1½ inches) in diameter, tuned by altering its length. Its standard range is from C4-F5, though many professional instruments reach G5 (see photo). 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.

Chimes/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 used provide a purer tone than solid cylindrical chimes, such as those on a mark tree.

Chimes are often used in concert band pieces (e.g. "Eiger" by James Swearingen). 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.[3] About this sound Play  

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."[4] The perceived "strike pitch" is thus an octave below the fourth mode (i.e., the missing "1" in the above series.)


  • In popular music 1
  • Other uses 2
  • Passages in classical music 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

In popular music

Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield has used tubular bells on many of his studio albums, most notably Tubular Bells (1973), Tubular Bells II (1992) & Tubular Bells III (1998). He has also used them on other albums such as Hergest Ridge (1974), Ommadawn (1975) and Crises (1983).

5.1 surround mix for the 2003 SACD 30th anniversary edition of the album, which has since been released on DVD and BD.

The Flaming Lips' 2002 track "Do You Realize??" features tubular bells.

Film composer James Horner took advantage of the heraldic quality of tubular bells in his score for the Civil War film Glory.

The animated television series Futurama's theme is played on tubular bells.

The "funding for this program provided by ..." rider that followed the end credits of the children's television show Sesame Street also prominently featured tubular bells in the 1980s.

The Smashing Pumpkins' 1994 recording "Disarm" uses tubular bells to create a haunting mood.

Tracey Ullman's 1983 cover of Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" features tubular bells in a celebratory manner, reminiscent of wedding bells.

Rush drummer Neil Peart used tubular bells on the songs "Xanadu" and "Closer to the Heart." He has also used them on concert tours, as heard on the live album Exit...Stage Left and seen on the accompanying video release. On later tours, Peart replaced the tubular bells with a more compact MIDI controller modeled on a marimba, allowing him to reproduce a wide variety of percussion sounds.

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 HRH Prince 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.

Passages in classical music

  • Hector Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique (1830)
  • Giuseppe Verdi - Rigoletto (1851), Troubadour (1853), Un ballo in maschera (1859)
  • Modest Mussorgski - Boris Godunov (1869, 1872, 1874)
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo - The Bajazzo (1892)
  • Gustav Mahler - Symphony no. 2 (1895)
  • Claude Debussy - Ibéria (1910)
  • Anton Webern - Six pieces for orchestra (1910, 1911, 1913)
  • Giacomo Puccini - Tosca (1900), Turandot (1926)
  • Alexander Scriabin - Le Poème de’l exstase (1908)
  • Richard Strauss - Die schweigsame Frau (1935)
  • Edgard Varèse - Ionisation (1931)
  • Paul Hindemith - Metamorphoses about a theme of C.M. von Weber (1944)
  • Benjamin Britten - Albert Herring (1945)
  • Aaron Copland - Symphony no. 3 (1946)
  • Carl Orff - Antigonae (1949)
  • Olivier Messiaen - Turangalila (1949)


  1. ^ The Study of Orchestration, 3rd, Edn., Samuel Adler, W.W. Norton & Co, Inc, (2002)
  2. ^ James Blades and James Holland. "Tubular bells." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 18, 2015,
  3. ^ James Blades and James Holland. "Tubular bells." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 18, 2015,
  4. ^ Rossing, Thomas D. (2000). Science of Percussion Instruments, p.68. ISBN 978-981-02-4158-2.
  5. ^ "About the Church Building". St. Alban's Church. Retrieved 21 September 2013. 

External links

  • Information about tubular bells – Vienna Symphonic Library
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