Notation for chimes and rings

Chimes and rings differ significantly from carillons in the notation which is customarily used to designate each bell in the instrument.  While carillons use standard keyboard and pitch notation (or nomenclature), most American-made chimes and all rings use numbering systems that are not directly related to pitch.  (The few chimes which have baton keyboards use carillon notation.)

This page


Numbering systems - defined and described

For almost all chimes and rings, the pitches of the bells fit consecutive notes of the diatonic major scale, with the heaviest (deepest-toned) bell being the tonic note of the scale.  The bells are numbered with respect to the diatonic scale, with any added semitones being named according to one of the adjacent principal tones.  However, that is as far as the similarity goes.

The distinction between the two numbering schemes can be visualized in the table below.  (Rings of 13, 14 and 16 bells, being a relatively recent development, are omitted to save space, as are chimes of more than 12 bells.  However, the same principles apply.)

Diatonic chimes and rings - examples

In these instruments, there are no added semitones.  The first (left-most) number in each row is assigned to the heaviest bell.
Chime/8:   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8
Chime/9:   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Chime/10:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
Chime/11:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11
Chime/12:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12

Solfege:  Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol La  Ti  Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol
Major step:  1   1  1/2  1   1   1  1/2  1   1  1/2  1

Ring/12:  12  11  10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
Ring/10:  10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
Ring/8:    8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
Ring/6:    6   5   4   3   2   1
Ring/5:    5   4   3   2   1
Ring/4:    4   3   2   1
(In accordance with the conventions of change ringing, there are no rings of 7, 9 or 11 bells.  Odd-bell ringing on more than 5 bells always uses the tenor as a "cover" bell, ring last and making the total number even.)

The numbering scheme for small rings also reflects the allowable subsets when not all the bells of a larger ring are actually being rung.  For example, if only six ringers are available at an 8-bell tower, then the back six bells (the six heaviest) will be rung and will be numbered 1 thru 6 during that ringing.

For larger rings, there do exist true diatonic major subsets which do not involve the back bells.  They are as follows (with the alternate solmization appropriate to the subsets):

Solfege:  Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol La  Ti  Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol
Major step:  1   1  1/2  1   1   1  1/2  1   1  1/2  1
           -   -   -   -  Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol La   -   -

Ring/12:  12  11  10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
  use 6:   -   -   -   -   6   5   4   3   2   1   -   -
  use 5:   -   -   -   -   5   4   3   2   1   -   -   -
Ring/10:  10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
  use 6:   -   -   -   -   6   5   4   3   2   1
  use 5:   -   -   -   -   5   4   3   2   1   -
Ring/8:    8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
  use 4:   -   -   -   -   4   3   2   1

Augmented chimes and rings - examples

The reasons for augmenting chimes and rings are very different. To emphasize this difference, the spacing of the table below has been changed to distinguish the half steps of the diatonic scale from the whole steps.  Added semitones are shown as sharps (#) or flats (b) for chimes and as asterisks (*) for rings.
Chime/8:   1   2   3 4    5    6   7 8   = octave
Chime/9:   1   2   3 4 #  5    6   7 8   = octave + sharp 4th (rare)
Chime/9:   1   2   3 4    5    6 b 7 8   = octave + flat 7th (common)
Chime/9:   1   2   3 4    5    6   7 8    9  (= octave + treble)
Chime/10:  1   2   3 4 #  5    6   7 8    9  (rare)
Chime/10:  1   2   3 4    5    6 b 7 8    9  (common)
Chime/10:  1   2   3 4 #  5    6 b 7 8       (uncommon)
Chime/10:  1   2   3 4    5    6   7 8    9  10
Chime/11:  1   2   3 4 #  5    6   7 8    9  10  (rare)
Chime/11:  1   2   3 4    5    6 b 7 8    9  10  (common)
Chime/11:  1   2   3 4 #  5    6 b 7 8    9      (uncommon)
Chime/11:  1   2   3 4    5    6   7 8    9  10 11
Chime/12:  1   2   3 4    5    6   7 8    9  10 11  12
Chime/12:  (other examples omitted to save space)

 aug:       Di  Ri      Fi  Si  Li      ...
Solfege:  Do  Re  Mi Fa  Sol  La  Ti Do  Re  Mi Fa  Sol
 dim:       Ra  Me      Se  Le  Te      ...

Ring/12:  12  11  10  9   8    7   6 5    4   3 2   1
  can use: -   -   -  -   6    5   4 3    2   1 -   -  = light six
Ring/12+1:12  11  10  9   8    7   6 5    4   3 2 * 1  (+sharp 2, or 2#) 
  used as: -   -   -  -   8    7   6 5    4   3 - 2 1  = light octave
Ring/12+1:12  11  10  9   8    7 * 6 5    4   3 2   1  (+flat 6, or 6b)
  used as: -   -   -  8   7    6 5 - 4    3   2 1   -  = light octave
  used as: -   -   -  6   5    4 3 - 2    1   - -   -  = medium six
Ring/12+2:12  11  10  9   8    7 * 6 5    4   3 2   1   *  (+flat 6 & extra treble)
  used as: -   -   - 10   9    8 7 - 6    5   4 3   2   1  = light ten
  used as: -   -   -  8   7    6 5 - 4    3   2 1   -   -  = light octave

Recommendations

Chime numbering as presented above corresponds directly to the conventional names for musical intervals - second, third, fifth, seventh, etc.  Thus it makes sense to refer to the added semitone which makes the relative key of F major usable (B-flat on the keyboard) as the "flat 7th".  Similarly, the added semitone which makes the relative key of G major usable (F-sharp on the keyboard) is best referred to as the "sharp 4th".  In other words, use ordinal numbers together with "sharp" or "flat".

Ring numbering as presented above corresponds directly to the order in which the bells first strike in rounds.  But in ringing, bells are identified by their cardinal numbers (e.g., "six"), not by their ordinal numbers (e.g., "sixth").  That is because the ordinal numbers are used to reference the places in which bells strike.  For example, in back rounds (reverse order) on an octave, 8 rings in first place, 7 rings in second place, etc.  In other words, use cardinal numbers together with "sharp" or "flat".

In summary,

Additional Notes

1.  The examples given in the tables above represent the most common configurations, but are by no means comprehensive. For example:

2.  There exist a few rings which do not fit the standard of starting on the tonic note of the diatonic major scale.  Most of these are "accidents of history," predating the development of modern tuning, with at least some resulting from the difficulties which itinerant bellfounders had in casting new bells to fit with old ones.  As an example, a ring of 5 in which the notes are (approximately) Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, might be described as a "minor five" or with "tuning: 1-5 of 6".  See also the paragraph on "Tuning of a Ring" in the middle of the Conventions page for Dove's Guide Online.

3.  The solfege system used in the tables above is the modern octave method with movable Do, which is the best way to represent relative pitches.  However, if that is unfamiliar then you can substitute modern English pitch notation (assuming tonic note C):

 aug:      C#  D#      F#  G#  A#      ...
C scale:  C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C   D   E   F   G 
 dim:       Db  Eb      Gb  Ab  Bb     ...
or modern German/Dutch pitch notation (assuming tonic note C):
 aug:      Cis Dis     Fis Gis Ais      ...
C scale:  C   D   E   F   G   A   H   C   D   E   F   G 
 dim:       Des  Es     Ges  As  B      ...
For a more complete description of the modern solfege system, see this online guide from Western Michigan University.

4.  The discussion of augmented rings is purely academic for North Americans, since none of the rings on this continent have added semitones (as of the latest update to this page).

5.  This entire subject (distinctions between notations, and appropriate verbiage) is purely academic in the context of a conversation among ringers, as well as in the context of a conversation among chimers.  In such a conversation, the appropriate numbering convention is such an automatic part of common understanding of the participants that any verbiage will be correctly understood.

Where this subject becomes important is in any written context that mentions both chimes and rings, especially when it presents technical details (as this Website does).


Return to Indexes to North American chimes.

Return to Indexes to North American rings.


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This page was created 2002/10/02 and last revised 2010/04/25.

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