Instruments | Tubular Bells | Percussion

Tubular bells, also known as orchestral or symphonic chimes, are a set of tuned steel tubes with a chrome finish, hanging vertically in a stand with a pedal damper.

The optimum range for a chromatic set of tubular bells is 11⁄2 octaves rising from middle C (c'–f''), as notes above or below this range are difficult to tune accurately. Each tube is around 5–6 cm (2 in) diameter, and ranges from 75 cm (f'', 30 in) to 155 cm (c', 62 in). The tube is capped at the upper end with a reinforced metal disc. It is also struck at the stopped end with a wooden or rawhide hammer.

Compositions for Tubular Bells

Tubular bells were invented in the late-nineteenth century as a substitute for church bells in orchestral music, as in Tchaikovsky’s overture The Year 1812 (1880). Although opera houses in Russia and on the European continent housed their own sets of church bells for works like Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (1829), it was expensive and cumbersome for touring orchestras to travel with these instruments.

In the twentieth century, composers began to write for the tubular bell idiomatically, such as in Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony (1948), and Benjamin Britten’s (1913–76) opera The Turn of the Screw (1954). Tubular bells are also used occasionally in pop music – most famously in the title song of Mike Oldfield’s (b. 1953) album Tubular Bells (1973), which was used in the soundtrack for the film The Exorcist.

Introduction | Percussion Instruments
Instruments | Steel Pans | Percussion

Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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