Sounds of the Season: Popular Instruments Used in Christmas Music

It’s that time of year! You’ve ordered the turkey, got the decorations up and all the presents are wrapped and ready under the tree. Now you’re ready to sort out the all important Christmas music. Did you know, some of your favorite songs incorporate some interesting instruments! Check out this list of some common and not-so-common instruments used in popular Christmas music.


What on earth is Carillon I hear you ask? Well, the Carillon is usually an outdoor instrument, or in a church, mainly due to the sheer size of it! It has bronze cup-shaped bells which are fixed in a tower belfry, or, in some more modern examples, fixed onto a large open frame.

Carillon is a set of at least 23 bells, which encompass two or more octaves in half tones. They are manually played from a touch-sensitive keyboard of large, round wooden keys and short pedals that are connected to the bell clappers by simple tracker action.

The bells vary in size from 16 cm in diameter and 5 kilograms in weight, to over 2m and 1000 kilograms!

So, what Christmas music can you listen to that features Carillon? There have been many different recordings of well known Christmas carols being played on the Carillon that you will be able to find online. Also, in December 2003, Linda Dzuris released ‘Carillon For Christmas’, a limited-edition CD that was the first professional recording of music from Clemson University.

Sleigh Bells

Sleigh bells are the epitome of Christmas! Hearing the bells at the beginning of a song can immediately make you think of this festive season.

A sleigh bell or jingle bell is a type of bell which produces a distinctive ‘jingle’ sound, particularly when played in large numbers.

So, which classic Christmas song features sleigh bells? ‘Jingle Bells’ of course! ‘Jingle Bells’, written by James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893) is one of the best-known and commonly sung American songs in the world. It was published under the title ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’ in 1857 and is still popular to this day.


Chime bells are another Christmas-y type of percussion instrument, commonly used in Christmas music.

‘Carol of the Bells’ song is probably one of the most well-known Christmas songs featuring chimes. Although the original work was intended to be sung a cappella by a mixed four-voice choir, it has since been recorded into over 150 versions and re-arrangements for different vocal and instrumental compositions.

You could also play your own Christmas music with your whole family during the holiday season. Christmas pipe chime music is simple, fun and can bring in the excitement of the holiday season quickly, all while involving everyone in the group.


In music, the organ is a keyboard instrument that has multiple pipes which play when a key is pressed. The organ is the classic accompaniment to some of our favorite traditional Christmas carols.

Originally a ‘Christmas carol’ referred to a piece of vocal music in carol form whose lyrics centered on the theme of Christmas or the Christmas season. However, today many different instruments accompany the vocal music.

‘Away In A Manger’, ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ and ‘Joy To The World’ are just a few of the traditional Christmas carols that are still sung world-wide at this time of the year.


The tambourine is a musical instrument in the percussion family consisting of a frame, usually made of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles called ‘zills’.

Tambourines are found in many forms of music: folk music, classical music, gospel music, pop music and country music, among others. But, they are also a  perfect addition to any Christmas music, particularly music with bells!

Christmas music will always be a favorite for many of us. Just hearing those sleigh bells can bring a smile to our faces, fill our hearts with joy, and evoke memories of a happy, cozy Christmas time.

Head to Music & Arts for Christmas Sheet Music

You may even be able to find some sheet music from your favorite Christmas tune in the sheet music section of our online store. We have a huge selection available for digital download too! Take a look and learn to play it yourself, even if you can only play the tambourine! Turn it into a new family tradition, ‘Guess the Christmas tune’!

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