sleigh bells

Also:       grelots      Shellen      sonajas      

Title: demo: sleigh bells; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The sleigh bells is a shaken-rattle idiophone of European origin. It is an auxiliary percussion instrument that is called for in a number of orchestra, band, and percussion ensemble works, and for film and commercial soundtracks. The sound of this instrument resembles that of a harness with numerous attached bells that sound in response to a horse’s movement. Composers can use the sound of this instrument to index in the listener’s mind a wintery night’s sleigh ride. No special training is needed to play the instrument.


This sleigh bells started out as a one-foot long, 1.5-inch square block of wood. The bottom four inches of this block are turned on a lathe to produce the rounded handle. Twenty-five spherical metal pellet bells, each about 1.25 inch in diameter, are attached to 1.5 inch wide leather belts, which in turn are stapled to the flat sides of the wooden block. The four flat faces of the block each have a single row of six pellet bells, and a single bell is attached at the flat end of the block. Each pellet bell has a single, unattached metal pellet inside it that serves as a beater.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the instrument with one hand by the handle and either shakes the entire instrument or pounds the hand holding the instrument against the palm of the other hand.


Harness sleigh bells have been in existence since Medieval times. They have been used as a musical instrument since at least the late-18th century when Mozart used them in an instrumental work. It is not clear when the wood-mounted sleigh bells design came into existence, but it is clearly the standard form in use today.

Bibliographic Citations

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

________. 2005. Practical Percussion. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow spheroid vessel - with opening/s

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded collectively

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - indirect

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - pellet/s, seed/s, bead/s inside closed vessel/s

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


13.7 in. length 1.25 in. diameter of bells

Primary Materials

metal - sheet
leather - tanned


Carroll Sound



Entry Author

Roger Vetter