A Brief History of Wind Chimes

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX


This article is dedicated to my grandparents.



The earliest known wind-chimes can be traced back to 1100 B.C. China (How Products Are Made). It was believed throughout Southeastern Asia that bells promoted peace and good health. Especially important in Buddhism, bells are a critical “part of honoring the Three Jewels or Three Treasures;” the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (Naillon). Ringing a bell before prayer or during meditation is meant to “call for the protection of the heavenly deities” and also to focus the mind on the task at hand (Naillon). Because of their ornate nature, wind bells were also a sign of wealth.  

The furin, one of the earliest models of a hanging wind bell, was revered in ancient Japan for its ability to “ward away evil” and protect people from illnesses (Matcha). The furin consists of three main parts; a bowl-shaped exterior, a clapper or zetsu, and a strip of paper that acts as a tiny fan for hot summer days (Matcha). Originally, Japanese bells were cast in bronze, but technological advances in the 19th century from Europe allowed for the construction of glass bells, which remain the standard (Japan National Tourism Organization).

According to the editors of Park West Gallery, based in Michigan (US), when Japan opened their ports to western countries in the mid-1800’s, several eastern traditions and material goods made their way to Europe and the Americas for the first time. It is a reasonable assumption, then, that wind chimes were adopted into other cultures during this period of widespread JaponismeWind chimes have since become a popular home decoration in secular culture world-wide.

Production of Contemporary Wind Chimes

The editors of How Products Are Made, describe a wind chime as a musical instrument “that harnesses the wind as its player and composer.” There are three main types of wind chimes; a cluster of small objects that clink together, a group of objects that are struck by a clapper, and a bell with a clapper. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss the production process for a contemporary wind chime made of aluminum tubes.

First, manufacturers cut and treat the wooden plate that will serve as the top of the instrument. Small holes are drilled into the plate in order to later thread wire or string through it to hold the metal tubing. Next, the aluminum tubing is cut into various lengths depending on the desired pitches of the chimes. These pitches are closely checked with computers and minute adjustments are made. Small holes are then drilled near the top of the tubes which are later hand-strung onto the wooden plate. Generally, modern wind chimes consist of between four and eight aluminum tubes. If there is to be one, the clapper will be added at this point. Most companies complete their product with either a looped string or metal hook attached to the top of the instrument for easy hanging. The instruments come in virtually unlimited shapes, colors, and pitches. The editors of Encyclopedia predict that wind chimes will likely retain their global popularity due to the high number of cultures who enjoy gardening as a hobby.

Classical Compositions

Several contemporary composers have employed the wind chime in their music, particularly if the work is pastoral or reminiscent. And So the Wind Blew (from the album Layers: Chamber Music for Percussion) by Gene Koshinski is a multi-percussion duet that employs more than three sets of wind chimes. The piece lasts approximately twenty minutes and is meant to emulate the “sounds of nature” and pay homage to gamelan music (Koshinski). This minimalistic composition employs a simple harmonic structure (based on one set of tuned wind chimes) and a static melody (Koshinski). The instruments included in the work are wind chimes, vibraphone, sistrum, concert bass drum, crotales, tuned rice bowls, China toms, piccolo wood blocks, maracas, and tam tam.

Gene Koshinski (b. 1980) is currently the Professor of Percussion at the University of Minnesota Duluth and is an advocate for new music. He has performed in more than twelve countries including France, Belgium, China, and Canada. In 2012, Koshinski was awarded the ASCAP Foundation Nissim Prize for “best new score for large ensemble” for his Concerto for Marimba and Choir. His original method books and more than twenty-five compositions for percussion are distributed internationally.

            Purchase And So the Wind Blew Here.

Largest Wind Chime in the World

According to Guinness World Records, the largest wind chime ever built measures forty-two feet and hangs nearly fifty feet from the ground. The instrument was designed by Jim Bolin in 2012 and currently resides in Casey, Illinois (USA). Casey is also the home of the world’s largest pitchfork, golf tee, mailbox, clogs, and rocking chair.




Image Source: Marina McLerran. 9 September, 2017.


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