The Sound of Bells

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Henfield, West Sussex, St. Peter, 8, 16-2-7 in E

Recorded: WAH 28/10/00
Analysed: WAH 18/1/01

These bells are a complete eight by Taylors of 1913, a relatively early true-harmonic tuned peal. Both in handling, and sound, they are a very good peal indeed, well worth ringing, and well worth analysing too. The results are more interesting than I expected.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 8 Taylors 1913 None since then

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 669 / 670.1Hz (an equal intensity doublet).

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2403 -1203 -896 -499 1206 685 1229
2 -2401 -1195 -894 -501 1095 693 1242
3 -2396 -1202 -887 - 896 689 1242
4 -2399 -1194 -875 -503 697 683 1227
5 -2401 -1209 -871 -507 501 682 1234
6 -2396 -1198 -876 -493 393 685 1234
7 -2395 -1200 -882 -490 205 690 1246
8 -2386 -1192 -873 - 1.6
688 1239

(The figures in this table are all given in cents. For all partials except the nominal, the partials are given from the nominals of the bell. Cents of the nominals are relative to the tenor. Pairs of values indicate a doublet. Frequencies for the quint are often not given, especially if inaudible.)

I am grateful to Stephen Ivin for obtaining for me the tuning figures for the nominals of these bells as given by Taylors. These figures, in Hz, are given in the table below in three columns: planned (the theoretical value calculated by the tuner): achieved (that meaured by Taylors after tuning): and WAH (the figure I measure from my recordings). The discrepancies between the last two columns, which are minor, are due to a combination of any errors in Taylor's measurements and any speed variation in my video camera.

Bell Planned Achieved WAH
1 1338.3 1342.5 1343.8
2 1262.9 1260 1260.3
3 1125.1 1122 1123.2
4 1002.3 1002.5 1001.6
5 893 893.5 894.4
6 842.9 840 839.5
7 752.1 753 753.9
8 669.1 669 669.0

Intensity plots

My recordings are of the bells chimed from the ringing room, so that all of them are a little noisy. Here is a spectrum plot of the 6th:

Henfield 6th

Here is a spectrum plot of the 5th, which looks rather different:

Henfield 5th


As will be clear from the recording, these are a smashing peal of bells. The table of partials shows that all partials are tuned fairly accurately, especially the hums and primes, which are all correct to within 10 cents apart from the tenor hum which is a little sharper than this. The quints also, where they are audible, are very close. Interestingly the tierces are less accurate. There is no stretch to speak of across the peal, and the nominals are well in tune. It's possible that there is a trace of just temperament, in that the second, third and sixth nominals are the flattest in the peal. However, this variation is within normal tuning error. The tenor, remarkably, has a pronouced doublet on its nominal, with both halves of the pair of equal intensity. I can't hear it on the recording, but then the nominal is a short-lived partial.

Before doing the analysis, I had assumed that the spectral plots of all the bells would show the same profile - strong nominal, weak upper partials, weak hum - the usual modern Taylor sound. However, I was quite wrong. Bells such as the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and tenor do show this profile. This can be seen in the spectrum of the 6th above, which also has an unusually weak prime. However the fifth, as can be seen above, has a quite different spectral plot. It has a strong hum, weaker nominal and strong partials above the nominal. The partials at about 400 and 1700 cents (the 'secondary strike' partials) are strong in this bell. To a lesser extent, the 7th and the 4th also have this older spectrum. The treble appears to have a newer spectrum but has a very strong hum.

This difference in the spectra is marked, and the effect can easily be heard in the bells. The sixth has a pure tone, but the fifth, despite the accuracy of its partials, has a feeling of 19th century clonk about it. This pair of bells is a very good demonstration of the difference that partial intensity makes to timbre even when the tuning of the lowest five partials is the same.


Last updated August 14, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey