Handbells

How to Start a Handbell Choir (with Zero Experience)

How to Start a Handbell Choir (with Zero Experience)

So, you want to start a handbell choir. The only problem is, you don't know the first thing about ringing and your ringers are mostly newbies without a whole lot of previous musical experience.

What's a want-to-be handbell choir director to do?

The good news is you don't need to have a lot of experience or professional training to lead and direct a handbell choir (though, that never hurts). With a desire to learn, a solid sense of rhythm and steady beat, and a little practical know-how, you'll be on your way to building and leading a handbell choir in no time.

A Dozen Budget-Friendly Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

A Dozen Budget-Friendly Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of playing through a new handbell piece. The challenge (you want me to play how many bells?), the excitement (a new technique!), the intrigue (how will it end?).

The only problem is, handbell music can be quite costly, sometimes as high as $5 per copy.

And if you’re a part-time director of a small handbell choir at a small church with a small budget, to match, you may be able to afford only 1-2 new pieces a year.

A practical solution? Handbell collections.

Instead of buying music one piece at a time (and spending $4-$5 per copy), a collection gives you 3-10 pieces for a fraction of the cost. Recently, I’ve come across several collections that work really well for smaller (2-3 octave) handbell choirs like ours.

Here are 12 budget-friendly collections you might consider:

Handbell Notation Guide [Infographic]

Handbell Notation Guide [Infographic]

One of the most challenging things about directing a handbell choir is getting used to all the new markings in the music.

Why? Because in addition to general music notation markings (dynamics, slurs, articulation, accidentals, accents, etc.), handbell music includes special technique-specific markings - things like “thumb damp,” “echo,” and “martellato."

A number of these notation markings appear only in handbell music and if you’re relatively new to ringing, it can be hard to keep up.

What does that arrow mean again?
What do you do when you see a plus sign?
What does “TD” stand for?

A few months ago, I found myself googling “handbell notation chart” without much success. There are a few cheat sheets out there, but not as many as you might think. So, I decided to create my own.

25 Reproducible Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

25 Reproducible Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

It can be challenging to find good quality handbell repertoire for a small bell choir. It’s even more difficult to find music for a small, but intermediate-level group. Add to that the expense of buying new handbell music ($5 per copy, on average), which could cost you $50, or so, for one new piece in your library. If your bell choir plays several times per year, as most bell choirs do, this adds up quickly.

A solution? Reproducible collections.

When you purchase a single copy of a reproducible collection, it includes a license to reproduce as many copies of the collection as you need for your ensemble. Most of these collections run around $50, but they include 6-8 pieces for your bell choir to play. This is a significant amount of savings!

Reproducible collections are available from a variety of publishers and distributors. Some are even available as digital downloads (marked with an asterisk below), meaning you can purchase the collection, download it to your computer, and print it immediately without waiting for a book to arrive in the mail. This is a great time-saver if you’re shopping for new music just a few days before your next rehearsal!

How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

Let’s say you just inherited your church’s handbell choir. You’ve subbed in handbell choirs a few times before and know the basic ringing technique (damping and that all-important snap in the wrist). Maybe you have some conducting experience, too. And the members of this particular handbell choir have been playing together for a long time.

I mean, the bell choir probably runs itself at this point. How hard can it be?

The truth is, it’s not that hard, but it is different from directing a vocal choir or even an instrumental group. Handbell music notation is different (and more complex), there’s often a greater emphasis on rhythm and counting, and the ins and outs of assigning bells and keeping track of parts from piece to piece adds another layer of preparation and planning to your plate as director.

Not to worry, though. Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about directing handbell choirs and my process for running a rehearsal. Enjoy!

10 Creative Ways to Use Handbells in Worship

10 Creative Ways to Use Handbells in Worship

One of my favorite parts of worship planning is finding creative ways to incorporate music into the services. From introits to benediction responses, prayer responses, transitions, and even underscoring.

Handbells are a great way to do this!

Over the past few years, SD and I have come up with several creative, meaningful ways to include handbells in worship, beyond the traditional prelude or anthem slot. We recently inherited a bell choir at church, so I’m revisiting some creative, out-of-the-box from our past experiences and coming up with a few new ideas for our group this spring.

I mean, who said you have to have tables and foam and covers and special folders and notebook stands to play? We're breaking with tradition and using handbells in a whole new way.

Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

My Favorite Pinterest Boards for Handbells

My Favorite Pinterest Boards for Handbells

When it comes to playing (and directing) handbells, there's a lot to learn.

For instance, those who are brand new to handbells may not initially realize that the music is written one octave lower than the actual sound the bells make (C5 = Middle C). (source) In addition, there's the basic ringing and damping technique, figuring out how to make bell assignments, and enough special techniques to keep you busy for a while.

Where do you go to learn about getting started, choosing repertoire, teaching technique, and developing music-reading and rhythm skills?

I hope you find a few helpful resources right here on this blog! Here are some posts you might find useful:

5 Creative Ways to Use Handbells in Worship
Adventures in Bell-Ringing: How to Start a Bell Choir
Adventures in Bell-Ringing: Improvisation Activities

The Joy of Children's Handbell Choirs [Video]

The Joy of Children's Handbell Choirs [Video]

While writing last week's post on how to start a children's handbell choir, I came across a number of practical, helpful videos on YouTube. These videos show real children of all ages in real churches playing (colored) handbells in worship and at special church events. In addition to being completely adorable, I found them to be incredibly inspiring and motivating. And did I mention, helpful?

Here's why:

The brain processes visual images 60,000 times faster than text (source). In addition, more than 65% of us are visual learners (source). But that's just images. Researchers estimate that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words (source). Crazy, right?

So, today, I thought I'd supplement my last post by sharing a collection of videos that show the ins and outs of children's handbell choirs. Click through the slides below to get started. Enjoy!

How to Start a Children's Handbell Choir

How to Start a Children's Handbell Choir

Playing handbells is a great way to foster the development of strong rhythmic skills, physical coordination, and listening skills. It's also an effective way to teach the basics of music-reading (direction, reading lines and spaces) and provide young children with an active way to play and make music together. Yes, young children! With color-coded metal handbells, children as young as preschool-age can play handbells.

Each bell/note is a different color and music notation is often color-coded to match. Some music features colored note values (e.g. red for Middle C). Others use colored letter names or a picture of the colored bell with the letter name inside.

Looking to start a children's handbell choir at your church? Here are some of my favorite products, resources, and teaching aids. Happy ringing!

How to Write Your Own Handbell Processional

How to Write Your Own Handbell Processional

As church music directors, we talk a lot about music selection: worship planning, what fits with the lectionary, what will we do for Easter this year, etc. Most of these discussions revolve around finding the right piece of music for your group for a particular Sunday. But have you ever considered writing your own music? Let's start with a simple handbell processional.

A handbell processional is a short piece often used as an introit, fanfare, or acclamation. Processionals are often based on repeated patterns (1-2 measures in length), which makes them easy to learn and play from memory. They are particularly effective when played from the balcony, narthex, or while walking in and/or out of the sanctuary.

Here are a few audio/video examples, to give you an idea:

Festive Introit in C
Lenten Processional
Handbell Acclamation on "Azmon"