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Home > Articles > Professor Handbell: Choosing a Solo

Professor Handbell: Choosing a Solo

Professor Handbell here. Now that you've done your homework and learned all about the technical aspects of solo handbell ringing (see last month's article), it's time to tackle that all-important next step: music selection.


Some common questions are: how do I find solo music, how do I know which piece of music is right for me, what does the rating really mean, are there any publishers that focus mainly on solo music and what can I do if my favorite song isn't available as a solo?


Finding solo music is a relatively simple task. The Music Search Assistant feature on our website will give you a pretty extensive list to peruse (when I did my own search for solo music, with no other criteria, I got a list of 446 pieces!). There are ways to narrow that search, either by selecting other criteria (number of octaves or season, among others) or by giving us a call and letting us help you narrow the search. Other publishers are likely to offer similar services. So now we move on to the more difficult part – choosing from that list!


What piece of music is the right one for you? There are a lot of factors to consider, not the least of which is your skill level and how much time you have to devote to studying and practicing the music. A pretty basic rule of thumb is to choose a piece that you already know – this makes applying solo techniques and working on the musicality of your playing a whole lot easier than if you chose something you've never heard before! Hymns with strong melody lines, flowing accompaniments, and solid rhythms are very good starting points.


So now that you've found a promising title, what does that rating mean? Well, if you're a beginning ringer, you will probably get frustrated very quickly if you've chosen a solo with a rating of “difficult” for your first piece. It might be your very favorite song in the whole wide world, but if you aren't able to master it because it's too difficult, then your favorite song could end up in the garbage or you may swear off solo ringing forever – and let's face it, we don't want either of those things to happen. One thing to keep in mind is that not all solos have ratings, especially older titles. In case you've ended up with an unrated solo that turns out to be more difficult than your current skills are ready for (there are a LOT of those in my personal library of solo music!), take a deep breath and a step back, choose a different solo and work on the more challenging one as a future goal.


Is there a specific publisher that I can go to for my solo music? Many years ago, when Professor Handbell first became interested in solo music, there weren't nearly as many options as there are today. A few publishers, most notably Jeffers Publishing, National Music Publications, and Agape/Hope Publishing, went out on a limb and printed some solo music early in the game, but most publishers were focused on music for handbell choirs and not for individual ringers. That has changed in the past few years. Today, there are more ringers interested in exploring the art of solo ringing and more music published to meet that end. While a lot of publishers now have some solo titles in their catalogs, two of the publishers that have recently emerged in the solo music field are C.A.N. Enterprises and Tree-O Publishing. Tree-O Publishing publishes music for bell tree solos while C.A.N. Enterprises provides solos (and some duets/trios) with either a printed accompaniment or a recorded accompaniment.


But what if you've gone through all of these steps and still haven't found anything that “rings your bell”? (Sorry, very bad pun – Professor Handbell hasn't had coffee yet this morning!). You have a couple of options. First, you could contact an established composer and request an arrangement of a specific piece, however, that might get a bit pricey depending on the composer's standard fees and the piece of music you want arranged (got to figure in the cost of copyright permissions if the music isn't public domain). Second, you could try your hand at arranging! Many hymns are in public domain and you are free to arrange them to your personal preferences by such means as adding solo techniques that are appropriate to the style of the piece and alternating between the bells playing melody and the accompaniment playing the melody while the bells harmonize with an arpeggiated figure or simple chords. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and skill level.


Good luck and happy ringing!