The original wind chimes probably began as small pieces of cylindrical wood suspended around a striker that was moved by the wind. Later, they were carved from wood, ivory and other materials. Today, wind chimes are made of metal, glass, ceramics and wood.
Wind chimes date back thousands of years, to a time when Buddhists would attach them to buildings in such numbers that the sound could be deafening. The pleasing, musical notes were believed to attract benevolent spirits. Later, in both China and Japan, wind chimes found favor as pieces of art. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of wind chimes spread to the western world. Today, wind chimes are popular throughout the world.
Wind chimes are actually bells, a percussion instrument. The shape isn't what you expect a bell to be, but they fit the definition. Just as a modern bell is tuned and adjusted to give perfect notes, a modern wind chime is perfected in much the same way. The length of the cylinder is adjusted until the note is perfect. Each cylinder is a different length, resulting in a different note when struck. Bells and wind chimes both have strikers that hit the bell or cylinder, causing it to resonate. The primary difference is that the wind, rather than a person or machine, moves the striker of a wind chime.
The notes played by wind chimes can be selected by formula, but each chime requires fine tuning. The notes played are dependent on chime length, diameter and type of material. Longer pipes play lower notes, and so do pipes with larger diameters. Shorter, narrower pipes play higher notes. A piece of pipe is cut and tuned to match a specific note. From that pipe, other notes can be calculated, cut and tuned.
As whimsical and musical as metal wind chimes are, the subdued and harmonious tones of a carefully tuned set of bamboo chimes may be the most pleasing of all. Handcrafted using age-old techniques, their mellow tones have wafted on the breeze for thousands of years across Asia. Creating a peaceful, almost gentle sound, bamboo wind chimes are a link to the distant past of pre-history.
Glass wind chimes and stained glass wind chimes can be made from small pieces of cut glass. They don't have a tubular shape. Holes are drilled to fasten strings of fishing line to the pieces. The chimes tinkle in the wind and don't necessarily play specific notes. Glass chimes can be made from many types of glass, including glass cut from bottles--as one ecology-conscious entrepreneur has done. Ceramic wind chimes are shaped and fired in a kiln. The shapes moving in the wind, and lighter tones are the charm of these instruments.
Shells have also become a popular material for wind chimes.