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What are Chimes?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Chimes is the name of both clock bells and an orchestral instrument. Chimes can refer to three bells of high pitch used to mark the quarter hours, or to a set of chromatically arranged bells played from a keyboard. The clock bells are sometimes called carillon chimes when they number 23 or more bells.

Carillon bells are usually mounted in towers known as campaniles and are usually an outdoor instrument. However, a traveling carillon, called a “concert carillon,” was created in 2003 and played in a variety of locations in Germany and the Netherlands that summer. In 2006, there were at least 13 traveling carillons worldwide.

Carillon bells are often associated with church communities and used to play hymns. However, there is also a collection of original repertoire composed for them, as well as arrangements of piano music and other works. U.S. composer Samuel Barber wrote a Suite for Carillon in 1934.

The orchestral instrument called chimes or tubular bells is a chromatic arrangement of an octave and half of long metal tubes that are suspended from a frame. Mounted on wheels, chimes can be easily moved into place. Chimes are played with rawhide or brass mallets. Rawhide, sometimes substituted by yarn mallets, results in a soft sound, whereas brass mallets create a tenser and more focused sound.

Intended to sound like church bells, chimes have complex over- and undertones. They range from middle C (C4) to the F an octave and a half above (F5). The duration is controlled with a foot pedal.

Chimes have notable appearances in several famous orchestral pieces. They appear in the finale of French composer Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition: “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Chimes are also featured in the final scene of German composer Richard Wagner’s opera, Parsifal, and at the end of Austrian composer Gustav Holst’s homage to “Saturn” in The Planets.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
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Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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