The name "glockenspiel" stems from the German for "bell play," referring to the bell-like sound of the instrument. The glockenspiel is a percussion instrument, meaning that sound is produced by the instrument being hit, in this case with mallets.
The glockenspiel as we know it today is derived from two instruments: the original glockenspiel, which was played with an actual set of bells, and the metallophone, an instrument consisting of metal bars. In the seventeenth century, the bells were replaced by steel bars and the modern glockenspiel was born.
The glockenspiel has a range of two-and-a-half or three octaves.
Glockenspiels have a sizeable repertoire. They are featured in works by Mozart, Handel, Wagner, Debussy and Orff, among others.
Glockenspiels are constructed out of two rows of metal bars which stretch over a wooden frame, with a low bottom. Mallets are composed of either wood or metal; wooden mallets produce a softer sound, while metal mallets produce shriller sounds.
A portable glockenspiel, called a bell lyre, is used by military marching bands. Keyboard glockenspiels operate with metal hammers and a pedal (much like a piano); however, today these are rarely used given their poor sound quality.