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Title: demo: glockenspiel; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The glockenspiel (or orchestra bells) is a metallophone idiophone of European origin. It is today found distributed throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. A standard instrument in the percussion sections of orchestras and concert bands, composers since the mid-19th century have used it for coloristic effects and to play melodies (usually to double other instruments). It is also often called for in percussion ensemble works (see Mixed Percussion Ensembles and Keyboard Percussion Ensembles). A more portable form of the glockenspiel for use in marching bands is called the bell lyra. The glockenspiel is one of several instruments on which band and orchestral percussionists, be they are professionals or amateurs, are expected to be proficient.


Both of the glockenspiels pictured in the gallery have numerous rectangular-shaped keys made of high-carbon tempered steel. All the keys on both instruments share the same width and thickness dimensions--they are 1.25 inches wide and .31 inches thick--but are of varying lengths. The first instrument has 34 keys the longest/lowest-pitched one being 9.5 inches long and the shortest/highest-pitched 3.75 inches. The second glockenspiel has 30 keys ranging in length from 8.9 to 3.75 inches. The two rows of keys each rest on a pair of wood rails that run from one end of the instrument to the other at an oblique angle; one pair or rails is slightly higher than the other. The upward facing edges of the rails are padded with a strip of felt. The rails are located one-quarter of a key’s total length from each of its ends, which are nodal (dead) points in the mode of vibration for rectangular keys. The keys are held in place with rubber-padded pins or screws all of which run through the felt pad and are anchored in the wood rails. The first instrument has one hole drilled in each key at a nodal point, and this hole is slipped over a pin; a row of pins near the other end of the keys keep contiguous keys separate from one another. The second instrument has two pin-holes for every key to hold them in place. The keys are arranged in the fashion of a keyboard, with the ‘white-note’ keys on the lower row and the ‘black-note’ ones on the higher row. The bottom half of the instrument’s wooden case serves as a common resonator (the keys do not have individual tuned resonators like some keyboard percussion instruments). A special stand holds the instrument level at about waist high.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The standing performer faces the glockenspiel (the photos are taken from the performer’s perspective) and uses a pair of stick mallets with small metal beads at one end, one beater in each hand. Rubber-tipped mallets are used if less volume is desired. The glockenspiel is a fully chromatic instrument but its range can vary from instrument to instrument: the first instrument has a range of two octaves and a sixth (F5 - D8); the second of two octaves and a fourth (G5 - C8). Parts for it are written in the treble clef and sound two octaves above the written pitch. The instrument has a bright, sustained, bell-like tone quality. There is not damper mechanism, so if the performer needs to control the duration of a tone they must touch the vibrating key with a finger. For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on percussion [skip to 4:52 in the video for the segment pertaining specifically to the glockenspiel].


Metallophone precursors to the glockenspiel existed as early as mid-18th century, often with piano action. By the middle of the 19th century composers were writing bell parts that would appear to be meant for a mallet-played glockenspiel like the ones pictured here. It was also during this period that the bell lyra was being used in German military bands.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________. 1984. “Glockenspiel.” NGDMI v.2: 53-54.

Brindle, Reginald Smith. 1991. Contemporary Percussion. London: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holland, James. 1978. Percussion. New York: Schirmer Books.

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015:


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.222 idiophone--set of percussion plaques of different pitch are combined to form a single instrument, struck with a non-sonorous object (hand, stick, striker)

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - oblong bar

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: separate resonating space shared by multiple sonorous objects - built into instrument

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick with hard ball end

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


31.2 in. length 26.2 in. length of keyboard 1.25 in. width of keys 0.45 in. thickness of keys

Primary Materials



Fall Creek


K-100 M645

Entry Author

Roger Vetter