The Sound of Bells

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Temperaments and nominal tuning

There is no one 'correct' way to tune the notes of a diatonic scale - such as the pitches of a peal of bells. Various temperaments or methods of tuning have been evolved over the centuries to accomodate different desirable compromises. For a description of the various temperaments and tuning approaches used in bells, see the page on nominal tuning. In keyboard and other instruments there is a well developed understanding of the effects due to different temperaments. The effects in the main arise because such instruments have harmonic partials which beat and interfere. Bells do not have harmonic partials, and the question must be asked - what is the audible effect of bells tuned in different temperaments? The experiment on this page attempts to explore this. If you are familiar with the experiment, you will find the results here. If not, read on.

The links below are to eight recordings of peals of bells, tuned in different temperaments. Four are recordings of a moderately heavy twelve, and four a middle-weight six. All the peals consist of true-harmonic bells, to avoid distractions due to non-octave lower partials. In each case, the peals are tuned as follows:

To participate in the experiment, listen to the various peals, try to decide for both the twelve and the six which two peals are tuned the same way, and try to determine which peal uses which tuning style. If you are not able to identify the tuning style, but can hear differences between the various peals, it would be very helpful to know what difference you hear. Mail your results, views or comments, either as to exact identification or perceived differences between the peals, to me at this address. It is of course possible to cheat by analysing the recordings. If you must do this, please let me know in the email!

Since the experiment started, several people have asked for longer recordings, for recordings in changes, and for the files on audio CD so they can listen to them via a hi-fi. A CD with three minutes of change-ringing for each of the eight recordings is now available - drop me an email. I have put the first 30s of each track below for those who want to listen on-line.

Here are the eight recordings:

Unfortunately, the recordings are a bit noisy, especially the twelves. I hope this does not make it too difficult to hear the differences. Thanks in advance for participating.

The results of the experiment are on the next page

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Last updated September 18, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey