Chime

Did you hear a simple melody played on the bells, perhaps with one line of harmony? Was the pitch range limited? You may have heard a chime.

Kim playing a hymn on a chime.

A chime is a set of 22 bells or less played from a keyboard. The mechanism to play the chime is similar to that of a carillon. A single performer will push down the hand batons (and sometimes pedals) to move the internal clapper against the bell wall, striking the bell. The batons on a chimestand can be relatively light and agile, playable with a fist, but sometimes they are larger and heavier, requiring a slower, stronger push with a grasped hand. Chime keyboards are touch sensitive, so the performer can add musical nuance by making the notes loud or soft.

The bells in chimes are cast to approximate pitches to allow for melodies. They are not always tuned after casting, however, so many chimes have only a diatonic set of pitches, not chromatic. Diatonic sets mean that the bells are only in one key or scale, not in every chromatic pitch possible between the lowest and highest notes.

Chimes were a natural development of tower bell instruments in the Low Countries in the 15th century onwards. Chimes really took root and blossomed in the United States in the 19th century, however. Domestic bell firms provided these instruments for the growing population and churches that were founded with them. American churches were not as large and sturdy as the mighty cathedrals in Europe, so they could not withstand the mechanical load that large swinging bells would inflict upon church towers. Chimes were the answer–the bells remained stationary, dramatically reducing the strength needed to hold their weight.