Silvery, bright, brilliant, lustrous, bell-like, shimmering, glistening, shrill, jingling, strident, thin, striking, piercing, penetrating.
The glockenspiel’s timbre is homogeneous over the entire range. The most pleasing sound is achieved three or four octaves above middle C.
Together with the xylophone the glockenspiel is the highest-pitched instrument in the orchestra. The sound characteristics of the two instruments differ enormously, however.
As on all mallet instruments the sound depends on the diameter and hardness of the mallet head: the harder the mallet, the higher the number of partials that sound, and the brighter, harder and shriller the timbre. Softer mallets damp the higher partials and the timbre becomes darker, softer and rounder.
The point at which the bar is struck can also influence the sound. On the glockenspiel the striking spot is almost exactly in the middle of the bar.
In soft, fast passages the musician sometimes strikes the bar deliberately near the bar mounting or even on it. The volume at this point is extremely low because the bar’s vibrations are weakest here. With this playing technique, the distance between the “black” and “white” keys also becomes shorter.
Because its bars are made of steel, the sound of the glockenspiel contains a large number of partials (= bright timbre); it cannot reach high volume levels, however. Despite this, it can be distinctly heard, owing to its high pitch, and merges with the high partials of the lower instruments (especially the brass). It can rise above a great many other instruments.
The lower notes in particular possess a resonance which must be damped.