Glossary of bell-related words
(alphabetic order version)

The definitions presented here are intended to clarify the usages and classifications employed in this Website.  Other definitions and usages may be found elsewhere in the world of tower bells; a few are mentioned below.  Some bell-related words that are not used in this Website are discussed in a page about Vocabulary Oddities and Errors.

In this version of the Glossary, definitions are listed in alphabetical order.  (There is an alternate version of this Glossary which presents the defined terms in a logical, rather than alphabetical, order.  The content of both versions is identical except as required to suit the order used.)

All defined words are italicized when they occur in the definitions of other words.  A few key word definitions are given not explicitly but by context within other definitions; these words are emphasized at that point.  As in a dictionary, each formally-defined word is tagged to indicate whether it is a noun (n.), a transitive verb (v.t.), an intransitive verb (v.i.) or an adjective (adj.).  Where a word can be either a noun or a verb, the noun form is listed first.

bourdon (n.)
the heaviest bell of a carillon, or of the diatonic/chromatic range of a carillon.  Rarely, a carillon will have a sub-bourdon which is separated from the next higher note by more than two semitones.  (For example, if the notes are "G,C,D,D#..." then the "C" bell is the bourdon and the "G" bell is a sub-bourdon.)  It is possible (though even more rare) to have more than one sub-bourdon; this is found only in old European carillons, where these bells do double duty as swinging bells when the carillon is not in use.  The corresponding word for the heaviest bell of a ring (and sometimes of a chime) is tenor.

campanile (n.)
a free-standing bell tower, i.e., a tower containing a single tower bell, a peal or any of the other tower bell instruments named herein, or a free-standing tower designed and built for that purpose or appearance even though it does not currently house any bells.  A bell tower which is built into (and not simply connected to) another building is not properly called a campanile.

When a campanile or other bell tower is built so that a space to contain the bells is a separate and distinct part of the principal structure of the tower, that space is called the belfry.  This word is derived from the old French "belfort," which refers to a city-owned bell tower that serves various civic purposes -- time signals, alarms for fire or invasion or other catastrophes, celebrations, etc.  The word "belfry" is sometimes used in this sense, e.g., "the belfry of Ghent."
An encyclopedic article pictures such a tower and explains the term "belfort."

In some parts of western Europe, it is common to find that the belfry of a church tower or civic tower contains only one or a few large swinging bells, while a lantern containing a set of smaller bells forms a narrower superstructure on the top of the tower.  A similar small structure on the roofridge of a building without a tower may be called a cupola.

carillon (n.)
  (1) - "a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of carillon bells arranged in chromatic series and played from a keyboard permitting control of expression through variation of touch." [GCNA]  This implies use of a baton keyboard.  In these site data pages, the term traditional carillon is used when this definition is specifically intended.

  (2) - a site having at least 23 tower bells in at least two octaves of mostly chromatic series, but falling short of the "traditional" carillon either in the lack of tuning of the bells or in the type of mechanism (e.g., electric keyboard or solely automatic operation).  In these site data pages, the term non-traditional carillon is generally used when this definition is specifically intended.

  (2a) - A very small number of instruments having either baton keyboard but electric action or oversize piano-style keyboard with direct mechanical action are described as hybrid carillons; they are indexed both as non-traditional carillons and as traditional carillons, with appropriate "hybrid" tag.

  (3) - an automatic mechanical tune-playing mechanism, usually found as auxiliary equipment on a ring in England; this distinctively British usage of the word is not employed in these site data pages.

  (4) - a chime played from a mechanical keyboard; this distinctively French usage of the word is not employed in these site data pages.  However, it should be noted that in 2011, the World Carillon Federation adopted the term historical carillon to refer to old instruments of this type with a baton keyboard.

A tubular carillon is an instrument composed of at least two octaves of tower tubes; these are cast from bell metal and are comparable in weight to tower bells, but are shaped rather like oversized orchestral chimes, or like the chimes of a grandfather clock or a doorbell.  This instrument may have either a purely mechanical action or an electro-mechanical action.

NOTE: Where the word carillon is used in these site data pages without qualification, either definition (1) or definition (2) may be meant, without distinction.

NOTE: The word carillon is commonly mis-spelled as carillion, and occasionally mis-spelled in other ways.

carillon bell (n.)
a tower bell which has been tuned so that its various partial tones (hum tone and "overtones") are in harmony with its strike tone according to widely accepted principles of tuning.  [Compare this brief definition with the full official definition on the GCNA Home Page.]

We do not attempt to indicate the degree to which any of the listed bells attain or fail such harmony.

carillonist / carillonneur (n.)
a person who plays the carillon.

Of French derivation, the term "carillonneur" has long been used in the English language, and obviously forms the basis for the name of The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA).  It is found in most unabridged English dictionaries, is unambiguous, and is understood by all English-speaking aficionados of the carillon.

However, some carillon players prefer the term "carillonist" as being more appropriate in the English language.  This is analogous to flute players preferring "flutist" over the French/Italian "flautist".  There is historical evidence for the term "carilloner" having been used by some American chime players in the 19th century, but that seems to modern ears to be as awkward as "fluter".  This may be because of the way that specialized words for instrumental musicians are related to their respective root words.

>> Words of the form "instrumentalist" (i.e., with suffix "-ist") have as their root a noun which is the name of the instrument which is played, so they refer to "one who plays the instrument" (e.g., a pianist plays a piano).

>> Words of the form "player" (i.e., with suffix "-er") have as their root a verb which describes the action of the player of the instrument.  Thus they refer to "one who performs a specific action", e.g., a drummer drums.  Usually the root is also the name of the instrument, but there are exceptions, e.g., a ringer rings bells.

As far as can be determined, this difference between "-ist" and "-er" suffixes holds true in both French and English.  It may also be true in Dutch, where "beiaardier" (carillon player) has been reported to be the only word for a musician that ends in "-ier".

carillon-sized (adj.)
having 23 or more tower bells, regardless of any other characteristics.

chime (n.)
(1) - a musical instrument consisting of at least 8 tower bells arranged in a diatonic (or partially chromatic) series, and upon which tunes can be played by some means, but with too few bells to be called a carillon.
A tubular chime is similarly composed of tower tubes, and is a smaller version of a tubular carillon (see above).

(2) - any collection of at least 8 tower bells which is not a carillon by either definition (1) or definition (2) above (e.g., a large zvon).

NOTE: The term "the chimes" is often colloquially used in contexts where "the chime" would be more correct.  However, the related terms orchestral chimes and clock chimes are both singular and plural.

NOTE: In these site data pages, carillon-sized instruments will be counted as carillons in summaries even when they are indexed under chimes.

chime (v.)
(1) (v.t.) - to swing a bell just enough for the clapper to strike, often on only one side of the bell rather than on alternating sides.

(2) (v.t.) - to sound one or more bells by any method (colloquial).

(3) (v.i.) - to emit the sound of a bell (colloquial), as in the old clock bell inscription, "To tell the time, we chime."

chime-sized (adj.)
having 8 to 22 tower bells, regardless of any other characteristics.

chimer (n.)
a person who chimes the bells (i.e., plays a chime.)

chimestand (n.)
(1) - the console (mechanical keyboard) of a chime (either baton or pumphandle);

(2) - a wall-mounted rack to which are tied ropes leading to the clappers of a chime; sometimes called a taut-rope clavier.  When used as auxiliary equipment with a ring, the ropes are connected not to the clappers but to externally-mounted under-hammers.  In the original design, commonly called an Ellacombe stand after its inventor, each hammer when at rest is out of the path of the swinging bell.  [An illustration from Ellacombe's book will explain this better when we can add it.]  To shorten the hammer stroke for better control when playing, the hammers can be partially raised by retying the ropes at a different point; but they must later be lowered out of the way to permit the bells to swing without interference.  An improved design uses a movable tie bar to enable all of the hammers to be raised or lowered simultaneously without retying any of the hammer ropes.

chimola (n.)
a chime made of hemispherical bells rather than conventional cup-shaped bells.

clapper (n.)
a movable striker suspended within a bell, by which it is caused to ring.  An external striker is often called a hammer, as in clock hammer or drop hammer.  A properly fitted clapper or hammer will always strike the bell at the sound bow. 

In a swinging bell, the clapper is pivoted on the central axis and moves freely as a pendulum, striking the bell alternately on one side and then the other.  If the clapper is moving faster than the bell at the instant of striking, it is called a flying clapper; otherwise it is a falling clapper.  Such a bell may also be struck by a tolling hammer and/or a clock hammer when it is not swinging.

In a bell hung dead, the clapper is often suspended close to one side of the bell, and moves under control of the operating mechanism.  A dead-hung bell may have no clapper at all, being struck only by one or more hammers, if it is played only automatically or if it is too small for a clapper of adequate size (e.g., a carillon bell in the very high treble range).

concert pitch
see transposition, below

console (or clavier) (n.)
the case or framework which holds a keyboard; it may also contain a pedal keyboard or pedalboard by which the heaviest bells can be played with the feet instead of with the hands.  A pedalboard is almost always present for traditional carillons, occasionally for chimes, and never for non-traditional carillons.  When it is present, the word "manual" is typically used to distinguish the keyboard which is played with the hands.  Consoles almost always include a rack for holding the player's music.

The console which is used to play an instrument may be qualified as a playing console to distinguish it from a practice console—one which is connected to some kind of sound-producing system (or is even completely silent) for the purpose of practicing without being heard throughout the neighborhood of the tower bell instrument.

The term keyboard is often used colloquially as a synonym for "console," though technically that is inaccurate, since a console may contain more than one keyboard.

dead (adj.)
refers to tower bells which are hung in a fixed (i.e., non-swinging) position.  This is typical of carillons, chimes and zvons.

foundry (n.)
a workshop that produces objects by casting them from metal.  In this process, metal is melted in a furnace, then poured into a mold which holds the metal as it cools and solidifies into the desired shape.  A bellfoundry primarily casts bells, most commonly using a form of bronze that is called bell metal -- a mixture of copper and tin in a ratio of approximately 80:20, occasionally with traces of other metals included.

glockenspiel (n.)
a set of tower bells (often rather small in size) hung dead and played with an automatic mechanism to accompany the operation of one or more moving figures which perform for viewers.  For a more detailed description, see the introductory material for the index to glockenspiels.  Such an instrument may be of any size; we list only those which are either carillon-sized or chime-sized.

great bell (n.)
a tower bell which weighs 4 tonnes or more, or which has a strike tone of F#(0) or lower.  (See the page on bell weights).

In the heaviest carillons, the bourdon and possibly a few other bass bells may fall into this category.

see clapper, above

hum tone (n.)
the lowest audible pitch produced by a bell.  The hum tone typically develops after the strike tone is first heard, and typically persists after other partial tones have become inaudible.  In a properly tuned carillon bell, the hum tone will be an octave below the strike tone; this sometimes causes confusion in listeners as to the actual pitch of the bell.

keyboard (n.)
any of several different devices which permit one person to play all the bells in an instrument by hand, with one key per bell.  The key size and arrangement vary according to the mechanism used:

  • baton keyboards, found in all traditional carillons and some chimes, have keys that are shaped somewhat like batons, have direct mechanical linkages to the clappers of the corresponding bells, and are arranged in two rows like the black and white notes of a piano;

  • "pumphandle" (American) or "barrow-handle" (French) keyboards are found in chimes with direct mechanical actions much heavier than those of carillons, and the handles are usually in a single straight line;

  • electric keyboards are similar to those of an organ, and typically use relays to control hammer solenoids, which may strike the bells on the inside or the outside.

Baton keyboards are played by striking a key gently or briskly with the partially-closed fist; pumphandle keyboards are played by grasping a handle and pushing down with a full arm stroke; and electric keyboards are played with the fingers.

peal (n.)
(1) - a group of tower bells hung for swinging, each at its own natural pendulum frequency, and therefore at random with respect to each other; swung either by ropes or by individual electric motors.  There is no standard arrangement of pitches for a peal; they may fit a fragment of a scale, or a common chord (e.g., a major or minor triad), or none of these.
Only peals of 8 or more bells are listed in these pages; the only ones in North America are found in Mexican churches and cathedrals or in certain French-Canadian chimes.

(1a) - a set of bells hung dead but rung by means of clapper ropes in a manner that somewhat simulates the sound of swinging bells; this methodology seems to be unique to Malta, and is here called a stationary peal while being categorized as a chime; in harmony and in use it is distinct from a zvon.

(2) - the performance, by a band of change-ringers, of at least 5000 changes, non-stop; on a ring of 7 or more bells, no two changes may be the same.  This definition is not used in these site data pages.

(3) - a ring. This definition is fiercely held by some change ringers, while being strongly deprecated by others; it is not used in these site data pages.

peal (v.)
(1) (v.t.) - to sound the bells of a peal (n.) by swinging, or to sound a bell by any method.

(2) (v.i.) - to emit the sound of a bell, e.g., "The bells pealed out jubilantly."

ring (n.)
a set of at least 3 tower bells hung for full-circle ringing in either British (change-ringing) or Veronese (concerto) style, normally in diatonic series starting from the tonic note of the major scale in the bass.  (There are rare instances where the minor scale or the Mixolydian scale is found.)  In the few instances where a ring has an added semitone, it is typically used to provide for a lighter (and smaller) diatonic range for ringing (i.e., change-ringing).  Note that in these site data pages, only rings of 8 or more bells outside the British Isles are listed (except for a few 6-bell rings in America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand).  Rings may be indexed either with chimes or separately, but are always counted as chimes in summaries.

ring (v.)
(1) (v.i.) - to participate in a team of change-ringers.

(2) (v.t.) - to sound (a bell) by any method.

(3) (v.i.) - to emit a bell-like sound (e.g., "a bell will ring to announce ...").

ringer (n.)
any person who rings one or more bells; more specifically, one who rings a swinging tower bell by means of rope and wheel; most specifically, a member of a team of change-ringers.

For more information about rings and change-ringing, visit the NAGCR.

site (n.)
a single musical instrument made of tower bells (a tower bell instrument), or a collection of such bells in one place.  Except in the case of great bells and a few 6-bell rings in America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, all sites listed in these pages contain at least 8 bells.

If a new instrument replaced an older one of the same kind in the same tower, both are included in the same site rather than being counted separately, even if there was a gap of many years between removal and replacement.

NOTE: In the context of the World Wide Web, the word "site" is often used to mean either (a) a host computer and all the Web pages resident on it, or (b) a home page and all the pages dependent from it on the same host.  In an attempt at clarity, we will not use meaning (a), and will use the composite word Website when meaning (b) is intended.

strike tone (n.)
the apparent initial pitch of a bell when struck.  It is this pitch which is used throughout these pages to describe the notes of bells.

toll (v.)
to strike a bell repeatedly at a funereal tempo.  The number of blows often has significance for the event being thus marked, e.g., the age of the deceased person.

American-made swinging bells of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were often equipped with a tolling hammer, which could be used only when the bell was not swinging.

tower bell (n.)
a cup-shaped cast bronze bell, of a size suitable for hanging in a tower; normally thicker at the sound bow where the clapper strikes.  All bells listed in these Web pages are presumed to fit this definition unless otherwise stated.  (Some listed instruments are made of other kinds of bells, or of cup-shaped bells cast from a different material, but used in the same manner as tower bells.)  The exception is great Oriental bells, which have a very different profile and no sound bow.

All tower bells in listed instruments are presumed to be hung dead unless otherwise stated.  The exception is rings, and peals, where the reverse is true.

transposition (n.)
the musical interval (or the number of semitones) between any note on the keyboard and the pitch of the bell connected to that key.
Example: If a C key is connected to an E-flat bell, then the instrument transposes up a minor third (3 semitones).

If note and pitch are identical, the transposition is zero and the instrument is said to be in concert pitch.  Actually, this is true only if the heaviest C bell in the instrument weighs between 2 and 3 tons.  (See the second panel of the Weights page.)  Lighter instruments may transpose upward an octave or even more.

Most carillons and chimes are transposing instruments.  But unlike other musical instruments, the transposition is not standardized--it varies considerably depending upon the weight of the instrument, which in turn was determined by the size of the tower, the funds available for construction, and other factors.  This can be seen by examining the list of North American traditional carillons indexed by weight; the last column shows that transposition of these instruments varies from -5 (a fourth downward) to 24 (two octaves upward).

zvon (n.)
a set of tower bells hung dead with clapper ropes rigged for Russian-style rhythmic ringing; normally few (if any) of the bells fit into any musical scale, and there are large gaps between the pitches of some adjacent bells, particularly the heaviest.  A zvon may be either carillon-sized or chime-sized.
Compare "stationary peal," under "peal."

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This page was created 1996/12/12 and last revised 2024/01/11.

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