Bell (instrument)

From Academic Kids

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A small hand-held bell, or handbell

A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually an open-ended hollow drum which resonates upon being struck. The striking implement can be a tongue suspended within the bell, known as a clapper, a small, free sphere enclosed within the body of the bell, or a separate mallet. Bells are usually made of metal, but small bells can also be made from ceramic or glass. Bells can be of all sizes: from tiny dress accessories to church bells literally weighing tons.


Uses for Bells

Bells have been used to announce the time or to call to prayers, to sound alarms, to celebrate weddings, holidays or victories. In the West, funerals were attended by the slow ringing of the church bell, in some traditions ringing once for every year of the deceased's life. Bells were used to call people to church, to school, or even in to dinner. In many British boarding schools the bells sounded in boarding houses are not electric ones on a timer but traditional handbells rung at the appointed times by junior pupils chosen according to a rota.

Bells are common as alarms; church bells formerly functioned as warnings of fire and invasion. The word is also used for the ringer in telephones, on bicycles, and in door bells. These most commonly use simple electric bell, where small bell(s) is struck rapidly and repeatedly by a relay-driven clapper.

Old-fashioned alarm clocks use mechanically chiming bells to indicate a preset hour, usually to rouse a person from sleep.

Church and Temple Bells

In the West, its most classical form is a church bell or town bell, which is hung within a tower and sounded by having the entire bell swung by ropes, whereupon an internal hinged tongue strikes the body of the bell (called a free-swinging bell). In the East, the traditional forms of bells are temple and palace bells, small ones being rung by a sharp rap with a stick, and very large ones rung by a blow from the outside by a large swinging beam. This last technique is employed world-wide for some of the largest tower-borne bells, because swinging the bell itself could damage the tower.

Bells as Musical Instruments

Some bells are used as musical instruments, such as clock chimes, carillons, or ensembles of bell-players, called bell choirs, using hand-held bells of varying tones. A "ring of bells" is a set of 4 to twelve bells used in change ringing, a particular method of ringing bells in patterns. A "peal" in changing ringing may have bells playing for several hours, playing 5,000 or more patterns without a break or repetition.


The playing of bells is known as bellringing, and such a bell produces a very loud, clear tone. If the bell is mounted as cast, it is called a "maiden bell" while "tuned bells" are worked after casting to produce a precise note. The traditional metal for these bells is a bronze of about 20% tin. Known as bell metal, this alloy is also the traditional alloy for the finest Turkish and Chinese cymbals. Other materials sometimes used for large bells include brass and iron. The process of casting bells is called bellmaking.

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The bells of St Sava's


Bells are also associated with clocks, indicating the hour by ringing. Indeed, the word clock comes from the Latin word cloca, meaning bell. Clock towers or bell towers can be heard over long distances which was especially important in the time when clocks were too expensive for widespread use.

In the case of clock towers and grandfather clocks, a particular sequence of tones may be played to represent the hour. One common pattern is called the "Westminster Quarters," a sixteen-note pattern named after the Palace of Westminster which popularized it as the measure used by Big Ben.

Ancient Chinese Bells

The ancient Chinese had bronze bells called zhong ( (鐘) which were used as musical instruments. Some of these bells were dated from 2000 to 3600 years old. These bells can each produce two tones ( These bells usually have inscriptions on them from which scholars used as references for studying ancient Chinese writings (a.k.a. Bronzeware script).

Famous Bells

Big Ben - Big Ben is the nickname of the Great Bell of Westminster, the hour bell of the Great Clock, hanging in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, the home of the Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The Great Bell of Dhammazedi - The Great Bell of Dhammazedi may have been the largest bell ever made. It was lost in a river in Myanmar after being removed from a temple by the Portuguese in 1608. It is reported to have been about 300 tonnes in weight.

The Great Mingun Bell - The largest bell still in existence may be the Great Mingun Bell in Myanmar which weighs 90 tonnes (200,000 lb).

The Liberty Bell - The Liberty Bell is an American bell of great historic significance, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Tsar-Kolokol III Bell - The Tsar-Kolokol III bell would have been larger than even the Great Mingun Bell at more than 200 tons, but it broke in 1737.

The World Peace Bell - The largest free-swinging bell is the World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky, cast by Paccard of France. The bell itself weighs 73,600 lb (33,380 kg) while with clapper and supports the total weight which swings when the bell is tolled is 104,000 lb (47,170 kg).

Sigismund Bell


A variant on the bell is the tubular bell or chimes, composed of several metal tubes which are struck manually with hammers. In the case of wind or aeolian chimes, the tubes are blown against one another by the wind.

See also

External links

eo:Sonorilo fr:Cloche ja:鐘 nl:Klok (bel) ru:колокол


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