A bell is a hollow vessel usually of metal, but sometimes of horn, wood, glass, or clay, struck near the rim by an interior clapper or exterior hammer or mallet to produce a ringing sound.
Bells may be categorized as idiophones, instruments sounding by the vibration of resonant solid material, and more broadly as percussion instruments.
The shape of bells depends on cultural environment, intended use, and material of construction.
A bell is an unusual instrument in that it sounds a number of different notes at the same time. It can therefore sound chords – like chords on a piano, or chords on a guitar – but only harmoniously if the notes are in tune.
Bells are one of the most influential percussion instruments whose powerful sound and simplicity in communication managed to become one of the most important instruments in the world.
They are usually cast from bell metal (a type of bronze) for its resonant properties, but can also be made from other hard materials.
The earliest archaeological evidence of bells dates from the 3rd millennium BC, and is traced to the Yangshao culture of Neolithic China.
The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC. Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound, but arguably played a prominent cultural role.
With the emergence of other kinds of bells during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), they were relegated to subservient functions – at Shang and Zhou sites, they are also found as part of the horse-and-chariot gear and as collar-bells of dogs.
As the centuries went on, creation of bells became and art, giving artist a chance to infuse on them various images and themes that attracted the attention for Royalty and nobility in China. They changed the way how bells were used, creating from the an item that symbolized wealth, power and influence.
The book of Exodus in the Bible notes that small gold bells were worn as ornaments on the hem of the robe of the high priest in Jerusalem
Among the ancient Greeks, handbells were used in camps and garrisons and by patrols that went around to visit sentinels.
Among the Romans, the hour of bathing was announced by a bell. They also used them in the home, as an ornament and emblem, and bells were placed around the necks of cattle and sheep so they could be found if they strayed.
The process of casting bells is called bellfounding, and in Europe dates to the 4th or 5th century. The traditional metal for these bells is a bronze of about 23% tin.
Bells were first authorised for use in Christian churches in around 400 AD and by about 600 AD they had become common in the monasteries of Europe. Bede reports on them in England at around that time. The earliest English ring of church bells appeared in the 11th Century.
In the earliest days they were cast in different sizes to produce different notes but no attempt was made to tune bells until the 16th Century with the advent of change ringing.
In those times bells were roughly tuned – where the inside of the bell or the edge of the lip was chipped away with a hammer and chisel – eight bells could be tuned to an octave of eight notes.
By the 19th Century the science of bell tuning became highly developed. It was realised that over the length of a bell the frequency of the note varied with the square of its thickness and inversely with its diameter.
During World War II all church bells were silenced, to ring only to inform of an invasion by enemy troops. Effect of reviving interest in the art once peace had returned.
The Great Bell of Dhammazedi made in 1484 may have been the largest bell ever made. It was lost in a river in Burma after being removed from a temple by the Portuguese in 1608. It is reported to have weighed about 300 tonnes (330 tons).
The Tsar Bell by the Motorin Bellfounders is the largest bell still in existence. It weighs 160 tonnes (180 tons), but it was never rung and broke in 1737. It is on display in Moscow, Russia, inside the Kremlin.
The Great Mingun Bell is the largest functioning bell. It is located in Mingun, Burma, and weighs 90 tonnes (100 tons).
The Gotenba Bell is the largest functioning swinging bell, weighing 79,900 pounds (36,200 kg). It is located in a tourist resort in Gotenba, Japan. Hung in a freestanding frame, it is rung by hand. It was cast by Eijsbouts in 2006.
The Olympic Bell, commissioned and cast for the 2012 London Olympic Games, is the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world.
Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster. It is the largest of the tower’s five bells and weighs 13.5 long tons (13.7 tonnes / 15.1 short tons). It was the largest bell in the United Kingdom for 23 years.
The Liberty Bell is a 940 kg (2,080 pounds) American bell of great historic significance, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It previously hung in Independence Hall.
Located in St Lawrence Church in Ipswich, Suffolk, UK, the oldest church bells were cast in the 1440’s. The bells stoped being used in 1985 when it was declared the tower they were housed in was no longer stable. In 2009, they were moved further down the tower on to a new cast iron frame where they were once again brought into use.
In Russian Orthodox bell ringing, the entire bell never moves, only the clapper. A complex system of ropes is developed and used uniquely for every bell tower. Some ropes (the smaller ones) are played by hand, the bigger ropes are played by foot.
The Bells by Jeff Mills is probably the best techno track of all time (subjectively).