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Percussion instrument
Other names
  • Concert bells
  • orchestral bells
  • carillon
Classification Keyboard percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification111.212
(Sets of percussion plaques)
Playing range
written like F3–C6, sounds like F5–C8
Related instruments

The glockenspiel (German pronunciation: [ˈɡlɔkənˌʃpiːl] or [ˈɡlɔkŋ̍ˌʃpiːl], Glocken: bells and Spiel: set) or bells is a percussion instrument. It consists of pitched aluminum or steel bars arranged in a keyboard layout.[1] 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. Its clear, high-pitched tone 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, although certain orchestral models may 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 whose parts are written two octaves below the sounding notes.


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.[2] The use of mallets evolved during the 19th century, coinciding with Romanticism.[3]


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, the bars may be 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.[4]


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

Bell lyre[edit]

Two vertical bell lyres in use

In the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, a form of glockenspiel is called a bell lyre, bell lyra, or lyra-glockenspiel.[5] The bell lyre is a form of glockenspiel commonly used in marching bands.[6]

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 that is supported by a strap around the shoulders and back. This variation is played horizontally with two mallets. Since the middle of the 19th century this form has 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.[7]

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".[8]

Related instruments[edit]

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 glockenspiel that was sold as a xylophone.

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, although the celesta has a much more soft and subtle tone.

The dulcitone has a similar sound to the glockenspiel, made by hammers striking tuning forks. The dulcitone uses soft hammers that damp the forks which, compared to the harder mallets of the glockenspiel, creates a more gentle sound.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ George Grove (ed.), A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 4 vols. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1878–1889).[failed verification]
  2. ^ "glockenspiel." Musical Terms, Symbols and Theory: An Illustrated Dictionary, Michael C. Thomsett, McFarland, 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  3. ^ "glockenspiel." The New Penguin Dictionary of Music, Paul Griffiths, Penguin, 1st edition, 2006. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  4. ^ "Brief Description - Vienna Symphonic Library". Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  5. ^ Blades, James (2001). "Bell-lyra". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan.
  6. ^ "glockenspiel." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica Digital Learning, 2017. Credo Reference. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.
  7. ^ "Banda de Guerra". Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-07-16.
  8. ^ Chen, Jeremy (27 January 2013). "Glocks, Oboes and Violins? Oh, My!". Halftime Magazine.
  9. ^ 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[edit]