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Home > Articles > Fall 2007: Repeated Notes and Rhythmic Feel

Fall 2007: Repeated Notes and Rhythmic Feel
Kevin McChesney

Simply put, "rhythmic feel" refers to the sense of time or sense of meter that you wish to make clear to the listeners. A piece in 3/4 has a distinct rhythmic feel, as does a piece in 6/8, in 5/8, etc. Since those listening do not have the benefit of having the score in front of them, it is important that we keep the rhythmic feel clearly in mind in our playing.

As an example, take the first 7 notes of "Rock of Ages" - "Rock of Ages, cleft for me..."- and sing them with absolutely NO rhythmic feel whatsoever, each note being given exactly the same value as if they were all quarter notes. Now do the same thing with the first 7 notes of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - with no rhythmic feel, as if all notes were quarter notes. They are exactly the same!!! Without the rhythmic feel, we lose the sense of the music!

When playing repeated notes, especially when a repeated note pattern goes on for some time (and this is extremely common in handbell music - much more so than in other genres), make sure that the rhythmic feel is clear and true to the piece of music being played.

For example, if there are repeated quarter notes in 4/4 time (a VERY common accompaniment pattern in handbell music), it will probably be best to give each set of four notes a circle. This will naturally emphasize the first beat of the measure as the first note played in a circle is the more accented note. For other rhythmic structures, other patterns of ringing will need to be established - for 6/8 beats 1 and 4 will need to be emphasized, for 5/8 you will want to make a clear 2 followed by 3 or 3 followed by 2 as the case may be.

As with so many elements of handbell ringing, it is important to make clear decisions about the repeated note technique and how many notes are on each circle and so on, so that all ringers in the group are ringing and communicating uniformly.

Sustained Repeated Notes -

Very often in handbell music, ringers - especially bass ringers - are asked to play repeated notes which are long and sustained. For example, the C4D4 ringer might be called upon to play whole note C4's (in 4/4 time) for 16 or 32 bars. This might be at a slow tempo. Clearly, it will be impractical with so many repeated notes and with so much time in between strikes to put all of these one one circle. It is likely that the ringer will want to go back to ringing one note per circle in such a case.

However, it is important to keep in mind musical phrasing in these cases as well. While it may be necessary to play one note per ringing circle, it is equally necessary to be true to the musical phrases, playing crescendos and diminuendos and other musical shadings as required by the music.

An extremely important principle to keep in mind in the case of sustained repeated notes and indeed in ALL handbell ringing is - ALL ringers are involved in ALL musical phrases. If there is a crescendo, ALL the ringers need to participate in that crescendo regardless of the number of notes or various stopped techniques involved in their individual parts. The same is true of ALL expressive elements of music.

Repeated Notes and Stopped Techniques -

For stopped techniques - plucking, ring-touch, thumb-damp, martellato, mallets - there is obviously no ringing circle involved. However, it is still important to treat repeated notes with special care.

The main principle to keep in mind is listed above - ALL ringers are involved in ALL musical phrases. This is true of ringers who are malletting or have thumb-damp as well. In fact, some of the most effective crescendos, ritards, "hairpin" phrases, legatos, and other musical elements are those that are "led" by those with the stopped techniques rather than by those who are doing straight ringing.

And when repeated notes are involved, it is vital that those with stopped techniques do NOT play every single repeated note exactly the same (unless you've found a very rare musical case indeed). Just whacking away with mallets or on martellatos can be a lot of fun, but it is not a joy to listen to and listeners will definitely tune this kind of thing out immediately as they would any unpleasant noise.

All stopped techniques may be played with a wide dynamic range as well as with possibilities for articulation such as accented or legato, and it is vital to explore these possibilities when playing repeated note passages using these techniques.