The Sound of Bells

The bell is one of the oldest, and certainly is the loudest of, musical instruments. The sound of a bell has the power to charm, to amaze, to warn, to frighten, and to lift the spirit. Bells are ubiquitous even in our electronic age. And yet the way in which a bell produces its sound is complex, and even such a simple question as which note a bell sounds can have surprising and unexpected answers.

This website describes investigations over many year into the sound and tuning of bells. In the early stages of research I developed a software package (Wavanal) which allows easy investigation into bell acoustics. The software is free and can be downloaded here.

In April 2008 I was awarded a PhD by The Open University based on research into the musical acoustics of bells, and in particular the note we hear when a bell is rung. The full text of the thesis and introductory articles are available on this site.

Since completing the PhD the research has continued. I have a growing collection of over 8,800 bell recordings with dates spanning 9 centuries, hundreds of founders and many countries which I use for ongoing investigations. Regular updates to this site document recent investigations.

For an introduction, including lots of bell sounds to listen to, click here.

What’s new?

  • Merthyr Tydfil bells
    Visited: Bill Hibbert 31 August 2002 This is a historically very important ring from the Taylor bellfoundry. The tower website used to say: “The bells were cast by John Taylor, Loughborough in 1893, and were only the second ring (after Norton, Sheffield) to be tuned by the ‘Simpson Principle’.”┬áIn fact the bells were cast in […]

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  • A Bochumer Verein steel bell in the UK
    In the Peace Gardens in the middle of Sheffield, across from the town hall, hangs a steel bell cast in 1955 by Bochumer Verein, presented to the people of Sheffield in 1986. Those who have read the description of German steel bells will not be surprised to know that the bell is broadly true-harmonic. To […]

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  • The largest steel bell in the UK
    The largest steel bell in the UK, cast by Naylor-Vickers of Sheffield in 1862, is in St Peter’s Italian Church, Holborn, London. Dickon Love and I visited it on 27 September 2002. This bell is sometimes know as The Steel Monster of Clerkenwell! The bell was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862. The exhibition […]

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  • Coventry Cathedral – old ten
    Sound re-created: WAH 8/5/04 Prior to the casting and installation of the current peal of twelve (originally a chime of 14), Coventry had a peal of ten which were by reputation one of the finest tens of their age – they were originally cast by Pack and Chapman in 1774 (though the 6th was recast […]

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  • The strike note of bells
    This article was first published in ‘The Ringing World’ of June 20, 2003, page 586. What determines the pitch of a bell – the note we assign it – has been one of the continuing puzzles of campanology. It was Lord Rayleigh in 1890 who first established scientifically that the pitch of a bell was about an […]

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