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A small hand-held bell
A bell is a simple sound-making machine, a metallic drum which resonates upon being struck by a clapper. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone.

In its most classical form it is a church bell, which is hung within a tower and sounded by having the entire bell swung by ropes, whereupon an internal hinged tongue strikes the body of the bell. Such a bell produces a very loud, clear tone. The traditional metal for these bells is a bronze of about 20% tin. Known as bell metal, this alloy is also the traditional alloy for the finest Turkish and Chinese cymbals.

Bells can be of all sizes: from tiny dress accessories to church bells literally weighing tons. Some bells are used as musical instruments, such as carillons, or ensembles of bell-players using hand-held bells of varying tones.

Bells are common as alarms; church bells formerly functioned as warnings of fire and invasion. The word is also used for the ringer in telephones, on bicycles, and in door bells. Such bells are struck rapidly and repeatedly by a mechanical or electrical clapper.

Bells are also associated with clocks, indicating the hour by ringing. Indeed, the word clock comes from the Latin word cloca, meaning bell.

In the case of clock towers and grandfather clocks, a particular sequence of tones may be played to represent the hour. One common pattern is called the "Westminster Quarters," a sixteen-note pattern named after the Palace of Westminster which popularized it.

Another method of indicating the hour by means of bells is ship's bells. In nautical usage, a bell can mean either

Finally, old-fashioned alarm clocks use mechanically chiming bells to indicate a preset hour, usually to rouse a person from sleep.

A variant on the bell is the tubular bell or chimes, composed of several metal tubes which are struck manually with hammers. In the case of wind or aeolian chimes, the tubes are blown against one another by the wind.

Table of contents
1 Cowbell
2 Bell Telephone
3 Bell Aircraft
4 Places
5 Bell as a shape of a part


In areas where cattle, sheep and goats are free to roam, cowbells may be used to identify those belonging to a particular herd and help trace their whereabouts when the herdsman needs to gather them in. They are commonly trapezoid, cylindrical or cup-shaped. These bells have been used in various musical contexts.

Greek herdsmen often use several bells attached to principal animals which produce a distinctive chord. The scale on which this chord is based is then reproduced in the herdsman's pipe - so he can play along with the herd! Similar bells have been used in Western European "Classical" music where a pastoral mood is invoked.

Clapperless cowbells made of metal are an important element in Latin-American music. These are struck with a stick - the tone being modulated by striking different parts of the bell and by damping with the hand holding the bell.

In several parts of the world (notably in West Africa) pairs or trios of clapperless bells are joined in such a way that they can be struck separately or clashed together. The commonest term for these is "agogo" bells.

Bell Telephone

The Bell telephone company was founded by Alexander Graham Bell.

In the 19th century Bell was acquired by AT&T, often called Ma Bell, which maintained a telephone monopoly in the United States until 1984. The breakup of AT&T led to the creation of seven regional phone companies, called Baby Bells. The name persists in companies such as Pacific Bell and Southwestern Bell, which are now brands of SBC Communications. See Regional Bell operating company. See also Bell Canada.

See also telephone, AT&T, Bell Labs, and Lucent.

The bel (one "L") and its derivitative the decibel or dB is a measure named after Alexander Graham Bell and used in several fields, notably audio. See bel.

Bell Aircraft

The Bell Aircraft Corporation, now the Bell Helicopter Division of the conglomerate Textron, manufactured a number of important early aircraft, such as the P-39 Airacobra.

They also made a series of research aircraft, including the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound (Mach 1), and many famous helicopters, including the Bell Model 47 (US army "Sioux"), the Bell Model 204 (aka UH-1 "Huey") and the JetRanger (model 206 or OH-55 Kiowa in army service).


Bell is also the name of some places in the United States of America: and part of the name of:

Bell as a shape of a part