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.


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 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.


A person who plays a carillon.


A carillon of bells is 23 or more cast bronze, musically tuned bells chromatically arranged. A carillon offers the most flexibility in playing music, and its musical limitations are defined only by the number of bells it contains.


A chime of bells is a set of eight to 22 bronze bells. As a peal builds upon the functions of a single bell, a chime builds upon a peal by increasing the number of bells to the point that playing musical passages becomes practical.

Console (or clavier)

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 as well as (or instead of) the hands. A pedalboard is always present for traditional carillons, sometimes for chimes, and never for non-traditional carillons.


A set of tower bells (usually relatively small in size) hung dead and played with an automatic mechanism to accompany the operation of several moving figures which perform for viewers.

Great Bell

A tower bell which weighs 4 tons or more, or which has a strike tone of F#(0) or lower. In the heaviest carillons, the bourdon and possibly a few other bass bells may fall into this category.

Hum Tone

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.


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 linkage to the clappers of the bells, and are usually 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

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

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.

Lost-wax Bell Casting Process

The lost-wax bell casting process is a method of bell casting which a molten metal (usually bronze, brass, gold or silver) is poured into a mold created by a wax model of the original bell sculpture.


A peal is a set of two to eight bronze bells, used primarily for liturgical bell rings (as opposed to playing musical passages). A peal builds upon a single bell by providing clock chimes, as well as a platform for liturgical and celebratory ringing of bells. The unique selection of bell notes in a peal allows your organization to develop its own voice in the community.

Single Bell:The charm of a single church or school bell goes without saying. A traditional call-to-worship, a call-to-class, an hour strike, or a somber funeral toll speaks volumes. The proper single bell for your organization depends on the structural limitations of your building and your budget.

Strickle Board

A board profiled along one edge used for shaping a mold.

Strike Tone

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.


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, 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. 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 on the weight of the instrument, which in turn was determined by the size of the tower, the funds available for construction, and other factors.