The name given to a cluster of small bells, such as sleigh bells (see Bell (i)), arranged either on a strap or a loop of wire, or on a wooden handle (in the Hornbostel and Sachs system they are classified as shaken idiophones). Jingles (with isolated exceptions) are indefinite in pitch, since the unit is made up of bells of varying size and sound. They are shaken to produce a tremolo, or such rhythmic patterns as may be prescribed. For an extremely delicate sound the player may tap the bells on the palm of the hand. Jingles, as called for in the orchestra, should not be confused with finger cymbals or with the metal discs on a tambourine, which are also termed ‘jingles’. Walton calls for the player to ‘flick the jingles’ of the tambourine in Façade (1921–2).
Small bells and tinkling pieces were known in ancient times. In Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt they were commonly suspended from the trappings of horses, mules and camels, as for instance the bells on horses mentioned in the Old Testament (Zechariah xiv.20). Strings of metal pellet bells (ghantī) are worn on the ankles, etc. by South Asian traditional and classical dancers (see India, §VIII).
In the Western orchestra, jingles are used imitatively; to punctuate rhythmic sequences; and as tone-colour. Only on the rarest occasions (except for their former use in vaudeville) are specific pitches prescribed, the most notable example being Mozart’s use of Schlitten-Schellen (c''–e''–f''–g''–a'') in the third of his Three German Dances k605. As grelots they occur in Adolphe Adam’s Le postillon de Lonjumeau (1836). Other composers to score for jingles in various forms include Mahler in his Symphony no.4 (1892–1900), Elgar in Cockaigne (1900–01; harness bells), Ireland (A London Overture, 1936), Vaughan Williams (A London Symphony, 1912–13, rev. 1933) and Respighi (Feste romane, 1928). At the end of the 20th century, chromatic sleigh bells, with a range of two octaves (c'–c''') were available.