Also:       cowbell      sonnailles      

Contextual Associations

Almglocken are struck, clapperless vessel-bell idiophones of German origin. They are used in the European concert music world as coloristic sound sources, written for in a handful of orchestral, chamber ensemble, and percussion ensemble works. Their sound can be evocative of pastoral life.


The Almglocken bells are made from sheet metal folded, pounded, and welded into a vessel with a single ‘mouth’ opening the shape of which is somewhat of a cross between an oval and a rectangle (see first detail image). At the apex of the vessel, which is acoustically the least active part of the bell, there is a handle welded onto the bell to facilitate mounting on a stand. A drumstick, wood dowel, or a ball-tipped beater is used to strike these bells.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The set of Almglocken pictured here consists of twenty-five bells of graduated size (see second detail photo for a size comparison of the lowest, middle, and highest tuned bells in the set) tuned to a two-octave chromatic scale between C4 and C6 (even larger sets are made, covering a range of up to four octaves from F3 to F7). Depending on the work being performed either a few bells can be mounted on stands or, if the whole set is needed, it can be mounted keyboard-fashion on a xylophone-like stand. Composers tend to use the Almglocken as a coloristic resource rather than as a melodic instrument, occasionally as a sonic icon to reference an Alpine pasture with grazing cows.


Functional cowbells with clappers are the obvious likely inspiration for the Almglocken, which started to be written for by orchestral composers only around the turn of the 20th century.

Bibliographic Citations

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

________, and James Holland. 1984. “Cencerro,” in Grove Music Online. Accessed December 12 1914:

 ________, and James Holland. 1984. “Cowbells,” in Grove Music Online. Accessed December 12 1914:


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Nation: Germany

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.242.221 idiophone--set of suspended bells struck from the outside

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: bell-shaped vessel - with opening

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - various types

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


8.4 - 3.3 in. height (largest and smallest)

Primary Materials

metal - sheet

Entry Author

Roger Vetter