Some small bells such as ornamental bells or cow bells can be made from cast or pressed metal, glass or ceramic, but large bells such as church, clock and tower bells are normally cast from bell metal.
Bells intended to be heard over a wide area can range from a single bell hung in a turret or bell-gable, to a musical ensemble such as an English ring of bells, a carillon or a Russian zvon which are tuned to a common scale and installed in a bell tower.
In West Asia, the first bells appear in 1000 BC. The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC. Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound, but arguably played a prominent cultural role.
In the western world, the common form of bell is a church bell or town bell, which is hung within a tower or bell cote.
The bells are controlled by ringers in a chamber below, who rotate the bell to through a full circle and back, and control the speed of oscillation when the bell is mouth upwards at the balance-point, when little effort is required.
In historical times, before road, rail transport of large bells was possible, a “Bell pit” was often dug in the grounds of the building where the bell was to be installed.
Some bells are used as musical instruments, such as carillons, chimes, agogô, or ensembles of bell-players, called bell choirs, using hand-held bells of varying tones.