Tubular bells

Tubular bells (also known as chimes) are musical instruments in the percussion family.[1] Their sound resembles that of church bells, carillon, 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
Chimes/tubular bells (by Yamaha)
Percussion instrument
Other namesChimes
Classification idiophone
Hornbostel–Sachs classification111.232
(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

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: Journey to the Summit" 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.[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:

Other uses

Tubular bells can be used as church bells, such as at St. Alban's Anglican Church in Copenhagen, Denmark.[4] 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.

Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield has used tubular bells on many of his studio albums, most notably Tubular Bells (1973), Tubular Bells II (1992) and Tubular Bells III (1998). He has also used them on most of his other albums such as Hergest Ridge (1974), Ommadawn (1975), Incantations (1978), Crises (1983), Islands (1989) and Amarok (1990).

Tubular bells appear on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) on the song "Brain Damage", but are rendered almost inaudible on the original stereo mix and quadrophonic mix.

Tubular bells appear as part of the fascist rally in a scene from the movie adaptation of Pink Floyd's The Wall. They serve to emphasize the delusional Pink's inflammatory cries for the beginnings of an ethnic cleansing.

Percussionist Carl Palmer used tubular bells on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery tour, featuring them on the song "Toccata" as well as during his solo.

Queensrÿche drummer Scott Rockenfield used tubular bells on the song "En Force" both in the studio and live.

Culture Club guitarist Roy Hay used tubular bells on the song "Time (Clock of the Heart)".

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 in the 1970-80s also prominently featured tubular bells. The tune, by Sesame Street music director Joe Raposo, is sometimes referred to as "Funky Chimes".

The Smashing Pumpkins' 1994 recording "Disarm" uses tubular bells.

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 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. However, on the band's R40 tour, the second set featured a retro 1970s-style kit complete with tubular bells, used on the songs "Jacob's Ladder", "Closer to the Heart" and "Xanadu".

The award ceremony scene from the game Mario Kart Wii has some tubular bell phrases played on its theme music.

The song "Dialga/Palkia Battle at Spear Pillar!" played during the Spear Pillar stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a tubular bell refrain.

See also


  1. The Study of Orchestration, 3rd, Ed., 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, Oxfordmusiconline.com
  3. Rossing, Thomas D. (2000). Science of Percussion Instruments, p. 68. ISBN 978-981-02-4158-2.
  4. "About the Church Building". St. Alban's Church. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
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