Since times immemorial, the humble Bell has been the symbol of beckoning, whether for rituals, freedom, liberty, peace or a lament. Classified as a hand percussion instrument, the Bell can also be included in the idiophone family as it is made to vibrate either by being struck indirectly or by hand. The sound of the Bell does not limit itself only to music; its spell extends beyond the boundaries of music, sometimes pure and at times, mysterious but always powerful. In the earlier centuries, the Bell announced the declarations of the monarchs, arrival of the chariots and notifications to people about fire, wars, storms and other events. Today in the Eastern part of the world, Bells are associated with temples and rituals whereas in the West, it is associated with the Church. In Hinduism and Buddhism, a Bell at the entrance welcomes you and it rings continuously with each visitor to the temple. The chimes of the common Bell have assumed various forms and different meanings. Let us learn more about this instrument.

How did it originate?

Apparently originated in China and Asia, Bells have been associated with religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity since the 6th century. Almost all metal–using cultures and civilizations have used Bells in one form or the other either for signalling, dancing and as protective charms or by herdsmen who placed the cowbell around the neck of free roaming animals as a means of identification. The world’s largest Bells were cast in Burma and Moscow around the 17th century. The use of Bells in musical fashion however, originated in the 16th century and as a carillon (alarm Bells) to alert the citizens as early as the 15th century.  

How does it work?

There is a clapper inside the Bell. A stationery Bell is sounded by pulling the inside clapper until it hits the wall of the Bell. Sometimes, a hammer is used to strike the Bell from the outside to create a sound. Also, the Bell is hung in such a way that it hangs freely and a rope is attached to the clapper and to create sound from the Bell, one has to pull the rope back and forth, which makes the clapper hit the wall and the Bell makes a sound. In small Bells, the clapper is hit by the hand in a back and forth rhythmic motion enabling the Bell to make a sound.

What are its components?

The components of a Bell are yoke, crown, head, shoulder, waist, rim, lip mouth, clapper and bead line.  

How is it manufactured?

The process of Bell–making is also called as Bell–founding. Traditional alloys of bronze and tin is used apart from brass and iron.  On a two–part mould clamped to a base–plate, a large Bell is cast mouth down.  The core is built on the base–plate by using porous materials that are covered by loam. A profile is given to the structure resembling the inner shape of a finished Bell and is further dried slowly. This process is called Casting. The outside of the mould is made from perforated cast iron case, which is larger as compared to the finished Bell. This case is also inverted mouth down over the core and is clamped to the base plate.  The clamped mould is then buried into a casting pit where the molten Bell metal is poured in the mould. The Bells are tuned after casting to give precise notes. 

Which genre of music is it popular with?

Bells are generally associated with religion and culture. Large Bells are placed on some towers as symbol of time and events of historical importance. Churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples use Bells for religious purposes. Today, Bells are even used as chimes and alarms.     

Mention the types?

Different types of Bells include:

  • Carillon: They are mostly used in France as warning systems.
  •  Cowbells: They are small bells tied around the herd and flock for identification.
  • Cymbals are used in bands and orchestras.
  •  Hand bells are played by the hands for signalling.
  • Malleted chrome bells are played by a stick or mallet.
  • Sleigh bells: Also known as alarm bells, they are also used to sound an alert.  
  • Chimes and choir bells are used in churches, schools and homes.

The difference is in the usage, application and the design.

How does one learn and how long does it take?

Learning to play the Bell includes the basics of ringing, reading and playing and advanced methods. Ringing of the Bell involves the following steps:

  • Find a bell of your choice.
  • Learn some basics of playing the Bell in terms of notes and pitches.
  • Understanding the music created by a bell.
  • A detailed study of its anatomy and sounding areas.
  • Reading and playing includes steps such as holding the bell, its position and the use of damper, repetition of motion, time and length.
  • Advance techniques include holding of more than two bells and ringing them together, plucking the bells, using mallets and introducing variations by adding an accompaniment to a number of Bells.  

Bells are easy to learn for any beginners as they are one of the very simple musical instruments.

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