A general comment about writing for tuned percussion:


A metal bar. Usually pitched, but not at a specific octave.

Beaters: metal hammers.


There are many types of bell apart from tubular bells.
Swiss cowbells, or Almglocken, have a chromatic range from C3-A5.
Handbells are usually performed by specialist ensembles. There are 61 bells in a complete handbell set, covering a chromatic range from C2-C7.
The tubaphone has brass or copper tubes suspended xylophone-style across a frame. The range is C4-C6, but the instrument is rare.

All beaters may be used (but see tubular bells below)


Also known as 'antique cymbals'. Small, thick brass plates. The range is written C4-C6 (sounding two octaves higher).

Beaters: hard mallets.


Steel flange held in a frame and struck by two wooden balls as the player shakes the flexatone. Thumb pressure is used to control pitch, which is distinct but generally in motion (and accompanied by rattling from the balls). Range E5 - A6 approximately.

Beaters: Hand

A typical phrase, ascending and descending


Also known as 'orchestral bells', the glock consists of tuned metal bars, laid out on a tray or in a frame. The framed versions often have pedals. The normal written range is from G3-C6 (sounding two octaves higher), but models vary.
A pan shot across the glock:


Scale and arpeggio undamped
Scale and arpeggio damped
A high phrase
A low phrase
A quiet melody
Low single note
High single note
A famous passage from Dukas' "The Sorcercer's Apprentice"


There are many types of gong, but usually they are made of thick brass and tuned. The nipple gong is struck on a raised dome in the middle of the instrument.


The middle beater shown is usual. Most other soft beaters may be used, but never use hard beaters on a gong.

Mallets on the nipple gong:
Gong do's and don'ts:

The word 'gong' is Javanese and resembles the sound made by the instrument. Javanese gamelan orchestras contain many different types of gong.




Steel Drums

Hammered out oil drums of varying sizes, usually grouped together to form a steel band. The range of notes available on individual pans varies, but generally are as follows:

  • bass pans C2-F3
  • cello pans B2-G4
  • tenor pans E3-A4
  • guitar pans F#3-A5
  • alto pans G#3-C#6
  • soprano pans C4-E6

Beaters are usually made of soft rubber.










Tubular Bells

Metal tubes, suspended either singly or within a frame. The framed tubells comes with a pedal for damping. The written range is usually from F3 to F5.


Soft hit with full sustain
Loud hit with full sustain












Metal bars placed over resonators, with rotating paddles controlled by motors to modulate the sound. The range is F3 to F5 (notated at pitch).
A panshot across the vibes:


Vibraphone beaters:
Bowed notes:
Bent notes:
Construction of the vibraphone:
The pedal:
Motor speeds:

Single note, motor off
Single note, motor on
Scale and arpeggio, undamped
Scale and arpeggio, damped
Glissando up, motor on
Glissando down, motor on
Bowed passage, motor on
Bowed passage, motor off
Roll, undamped
Roll, damped
A typical passage of Bach, showing various techniques

The Orchestra: A User's Manual is a free resource and will remain so. It still receives between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visits per month from all over the world. See the testimonials. Thanks to all the donations, I have been able to create this responsive re-design. But the movies and sound clips recorded in 2004 do show their age. I would really like to re-record everything and add many more techniques, especially for solo and ensemble writing. I estimate this will cost around £30,000. If you know a source of such funds, please contact me: a.hugill [at] bathspa.ac.uk