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Home > Articles > Fall 2006: Assignments- What Not to Do

Fall 2006: Assignments- What Not to Do
Kevin McChesney

This is a sensitive subject, but it’s time to discuss some things that bell choirs are currently doing (and have done for many years), but are not the proper way to make assignments. Following are direct quotes from not one but quite a number of ringers and directors I have encountered over the years and my reasons why I feel better solutions need to be found.

1) “We have one ringer who covers the entire top octave (3 octave choir).” There are limits to what two human hands can play. Even leaving a LOT of notes out (which is how some of these people are doing this - YIKES!), there is no way one ringer can ring three or four positions in a musical and effective manner.

Solution: Get more ringers! Conceding that this is not possible in some situations, another solution would be to play two octave music or even one octave music (yes, large numbers of titles for one octave are out there!) with the ringers you have.

2) “Our G6A6 ringer rings the B6C7 (and even the octave above that in a four or five octave choir).”It’s not likely that this is being done well, regardless of the talents of this ringer. Even having one ringer play G6A6B6C7 is treacherous musically - damping will not be clean and when accidentals are thrown in, there is too much struggling and jumbling to do. When you add the octave above, it becomes grim to watch and listen to.

Solution: Same as above - get more ringers or play music for the ringers you have such as 2-3 octave music which doesn’t require the notes above G6.

3) “We have one ringer who covers G3A3B3 in our four octave choir.” It is true that for some individual pieces, one ringer can cover those notes and the accidentals. However, because of considerations of scale passages, speed, and quick changes, it is generally not a good idea to permanently assign one person to G3 through B3.

Solution: Check the music over carefully and decide which of the notes in the G3-B3 range may be played musically by another ringer or shared with another ringer. (Or recruit another ringer.)

4) “We have one ringer who covers the entire bass (or whole 5th octave).” By now, you’re getting the picture. Obviously, this isn’t going to work without incredible amounts of rushing around and being frantic, and even at that it will require leaving out notes, which is unacceptable.

Solution: The best solution is again to get more ringers. If this isn’t possible at the moment, ring the bass clef of the music like a four octave (or even three octave) choir until more ringers can be found to take on the reasonable responsibilities of the bass bells.

5) “We don’t have enough ringers for the bass bells (or we don’t have enough ringers with enough strength to play the bass bells musically) so we just mallet all those notes.” Well, unless the music specifies that you are to mallet the bass notes throughout, this is doing the music, and your choir, and your listeners, a disservice. Notes written to be rung should be rung, for good musical reasons.

Solution: Same possibilities - more ringers or ring a 3-5 octave piece as if you were a 4 octave or even 3 octave choir in the bass until more ringers can be found to play the bass notes properly.


When in doubt, refer to the primary principle, which is:


If there is any doubt about whether a ringer can play a given passage in a relaxed and practical way, don’t be shy about using one of the solutions given here to make sure that the music will not suffer because of poor assigning. As time goes on, not only will you get better at the art of making assignments, but you will also discover even more solutions.

This I guarantee: If you will take the time to develop your assigning skills, to think outside the box to find solutions to problem passages, and are diligent about careful assigning, then you will join the ranks of handbell choirs who truly excel in their musical presentations.