History Of The Sleigh Bells In Music

The bells are ringing out for Christmas time

SleighBellsPicture credit – Wikimedia Commons

When researching this article, we tried to think of other examples of where a musical instrument is so intrinsically linked to a period of time, or a particular celebration. You see, the sound of sleigh bells goes together with Christmas like overpriced chocolate goes with Easter. Dig a little deeper into the history of the humble sleigh bell though, and you’ll see there’s no real link to Christmas specifically, more to the wider subject of snow. The story goes that sleigh bells were attached to sleighs simply because, when gliding over snow and ice, sleighs are virtually noiseless so would be very simple to walk in front of. Perhaps after a few incidents of people being walloped by a couple of tonnes of horse, the riders/jockeys/pilots thought it prudent to try and warn pedestrians of their presence and from there the legend of the sleigh bell was born.

As a result of its seasonal association, it’s tricky to find examples of where the bells are used outside of Christmas music. We spent literally five minutes looking for incidents of them popping up in dub reggae, Ukrainian folk or any other kind of micro-genre you could think of but to no avail (although it was quite a journey searching the darker corners of YouTube for undiscovered musical gems.)

We found that a former member of under-rated American hardcore act Poison The Well had left to form a new band called, you guessed it, Sleigh Bells. Unfortunately, this new act is not festive in its nature, so our search continued.

We did ponder a few things which would take the post slightly off-topic, including replacing album titles with the word sleigh and observing the way a traditional sleigh bell is similar in its physical form to a stork of sprouts, yet we continued to struggle of finding examples of sleigh bells in non-Christmas musical history.

The History of the Sleigh Bell in Music(Some sleigh bell imposters, covered in snow)

And then, like a ray of light from way up high (or some slightly more frenzied web-searches) came a nugget of musical history containing a) the use of sleigh bells in b) a non-Christmas setting. Ladies and gentlemen, we give to you Mahler’s Symphony Number 4 (in G Major), which presents a child’s vision of heaven, presumably including sleigh bells and therefore probably…Christmas. Gah, foiled again.

Gustav Mahler(Gustav Mahler, musical pioneer and sleigh bell maverick)

So there you have it. The potted history of the sleigh bell is that it features all over music, providing that music is Christmas in nature or composed by a 19th century Austrian composer. Bah humbug.

If you’d like to write the next chapter in sleigh-bell (and other related hand-percussion) history, then click here to check out our selection. We highly recommend this Stagg Tambourine, Stagg Egg Shakers, and, of course, Essentials Percussion Triangle.

Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.