Percussion instrument
Other names Concert bells, orchestral bells, carillon
Classification Keyboard percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.212
(Concussive idiophone or set of percussion sticks whose sound is generated by way of being struck by a mallet)
Playing range
written like F3–C6, sounds like F5–C8
Related instruments
xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, tubular bells

The glockenspiel (German pronunciation: [ˈɡlɔkənˌʃpiːl] or [ˈɡlɔkŋ̍ˌʃpiːl], Glocken: bells and Spiel: Play)[1] or bells is a percussion instrument consisting of pitched aluminum or steel bars arranged in a keyboard layout.[2] This makes the glockenspiel a type of metallophone, similar to the vibraphone.

The glockenspiel is played by striking the bars with mallets, often made of a hard material such as metal or plastic. The clear, high-pitched tone of a glockenspiel is often heard in orchestras, wind ensembles, marching bands, and in popular music.

In German, a carillon is also called a glockenspiel, while in French, the glockenspiel is often called a carillon. In Italian, the term campanelli is often used to refer to the glockenspiel.


The glockenspiel is limited to the upper register and usually covers about 2+12 to 3 octaves, but certain orchestral models can reach up to 3+12 octaves. The C8 fundamental frequency of 4186 Hz makes this one of the highest pitches in common use. The glockenspiel is a transposing instrument, and its parts are written two octaves below the sounding notes. When struck, the bars give a very pure, bell-like sound.


Early glockenspiels were percussion instruments that produced notes via small bronze bells that were tuned with a drumstick. The bells were replaced by metal sound plates in the 17th century. In the 18th century the instrument was played using a keyboard that struck the bottom of each plate with a hammer.[3] The use of mallets to strike the metal plates evolved during the 19th century, coinciding with Romanticism.[4]


A Mayfield Glockenspiel
A Mardi Gras musician playing a horizontal bell lyre

When used in a marching or military band, the bars are sometimes mounted in a portable case and held vertically, sometimes in a lyre-shaped frame. However, sometimes the bars are held horizontally using a harness similar to that found on a marching snare. In orchestral use, the bars are mounted horizontally.

Larger sets of glockenspiel (i.e. sets three octaves or larger) are often equipped with a sustain pedal, not unlike that of a vibraphone.[5]


The glockenspiel is played with unwrapped mallets made of hard material, such as metal (usually brass or aluminum) or a type of synthetic polymer (usually lexan, acrylic, phenolic, or nylon). Non-metal mallets are used for general playing, while metal mallets are typically employed for a more brilliant sound. Rubber mallets may also be used for a warmer sound, although if the rubber is too soft, it will struggle to excite the dense metal bars. Playing chords on a glockenspiel can be done with four mallets using a grip such as Stevens technique.

Bell lyre

Two vertical bell lyres in use

In the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, there is a form of glockenspiel called a bell lyre, bell lyra, or lyra-glockenspiel.[6] The bell lyre is a form of glockenspiel commonly used in marching bands.[7]

One variation is played vertically and has an extendable spike that is held on a strap. The player marches with the strap over their shoulder and plays the instrument upright with a mallet. Another variation of the bell lyre exists which is held by a strap around the shoulders and back. This variation is played horizontally with two mallets as it does not need to be held upright. Since the middle of the 19th century this form of the instrument has also been used in military and civil bands in Germany, where it is called a Stahlspiel or Militär-Glockenspiel.

The all-percussion drum and lyre corps in the Philippines uses this as a main instrument. This form of glockenspiel is also popular in Colombian marching band music.[8]

Many marching bands stopped using bell lyres with the introduction of the front ensemble. One of the few college marching bands with a glockenspiel section is UC Berkeley's University of California Marching Band, where they are affectionately referred to as "glocks".[9]

Use in popular music

Glockenspiels are quite popular and appear in almost all genres of music. Percussionist Neil Peart of the rock band Rush used the glockenspiel in several of the band's arrangements, most notably in "The Spirit of Radio" and "Closer to the Heart", and also in album tracks "Xanadu" and "Circumstances". The glockenspiel appears presented in its own section at the end of the first side of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.

The glockenspiel was used in Jimi Hendrix's classic ballad "Little Wing",[10] as well as in indie folk music by artists such as Paul Duncan of Warm Ghost.[11] George Martin, The Beatles' producer, plays glockenspiel on the band's song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" to help create the atmosphere of the Pablo Fanque circus performance that inspired the song.[12] John Lennon also plays it on "Only a Northern Song". Panic! at the Disco have used glockenspiel in several of their songs, including their hits "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" and "Build God, Then We'll Talk".

Radiohead have used glockenspiel on their single "No Surprises".[13] "Redbone" by Childish Gambino also incorporates a glockenspiel, played by producer Ludwig Göransson.[14] The Jurassic Park main theme composed by John Williams, which plays when the T-rex crashes into the visitor centre at the movie's climax, also has a glockenspiel solo accompanied by trumpets. Weezer's "The Good Life," (Pinkerton) "Heart Songs" (Red Album), and "California Kids" (White Album) all feature glockenspiel.

Related instruments

The xylophone is another mallet percussion instrument common in orchestral music. The glockenspiel is sometimes erroneously referred to as a xylophone, such as the Pixiphone which was sold as a xylophone despite being a glockenspiel.

The keyboard glockenspiel consists of a glockenspiel operated by a keyboard mechanism. It is often played by a pianist rather than a percussionist due to differences in technique. The keyboard glockenspiel itself is similar to a celesta, albeit the celesta has a much more soft and subtle tone.

The dulcitone has a similar sound to the glockenspiel since its sound is made by hammers striking tuning forks. The dulcitone uses soft hammers which damp the forks which, compared to the harder mallets of the glockenspiel, creates a more gentle sound.[15]

Famous orchestral excerpts


See also


  1. ^ G, equiv. to Glocken bells + Spiel play
  2. ^ George Grove (ed.), A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 4 vols. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1878–1889).[failed verification]
  3. ^ "glockenspiel." Musical Terms, Symbols and Theory: An Illustrated Dictionary, Michael C. Thomsett, McFarland, 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  4. ^ "glockenspiel." The New Penguin Dictionary of Music, Paul Griffiths, Penguin, 1st edition, 2006. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  5. ^ "Brief Description - Vienna Symphonic Library". Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  6. ^ Blades, James (2001). "Bell-lyra". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan.
  7. ^ "glockenspiel." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica Digital Learning, 2017. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  8. ^ "Banda de Guerra". Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-07-16.
  9. ^ Chen, Jeremy (27 January 2013). "Glocks, Oboes and Violins? Oh, My!". Halftime Magazine.
  10. ^ weird instrument glockenspiel, Wouter Adriaensen, 2010
  11. ^ Funk, Peter (19 January 2006). "Paul Duncan: Be Careful What You Call Home". PopMatters. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  12. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1.
  13. ^ Jonny Greenwood's Rig, The King of Gear, 2014
  14. ^ Nostro, Lauren (2017), The Making Of Childish Gambino's "Redbone" With Ludwig Göransson, Genius
  15. ^ Campbell, Murray; Greated, Clive (1994). The Musician's Guide to Acoustics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 436. ISBN 019159167X. Retrieved 12 October 2016.

External links