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Home > Articles > Reassigning Trouble Bells

Reassigning Trouble Bells
Kevin McChesney

Remember that ALL notes of a piece need to be assigned so that they can be played smoothly and without frantic movements or undue tension so that the greatest artistry and communication can come through in the music. Even one bell that is awkward to play is a problem that needs a solution.

One solution is to reassign the bell. The bell may be given to a ringer who does not normally ring that bell but that has enough time to play that bell in addition to his/her regular assignment in a musical way. This may involve sharing the bell with a neighbor for one bar or a short time. It could involve giving the bell away completely for the whole piece to another ringer down the table. This bell should be marked ahead of time for the one who is now ringing it since it is not part of the usual assignment and could be overlooked. It may even prove to be a good idea to mark out this note in the score of the ringer who would usually play that note.

Further sharing may even prove necessary. One of my church groups had a troublesome bell that in the final performance was rung by four different ringers during the course of the piece!


An individual ringer may find that he/she can take care of an awkward bell smoothly by weaving or using four-in-hand. If you don't know how to do these two vital techniques proficiently, there are abundant resources available that can help you. EVERY ringer should learn weaving and four-in-hand. They are often the simplest and smoothest techniques for ironing out a difficult passage.

Still, there are plenty of times when weaving or four-in-hand are just too awkward. Weaving can be done effectively with all sizes of bells, though it requires sufficient time to be executed smoothly and in a relaxed fashion that isn't a distraction to those listening and watching. Four-in-hand may be done with fairly large bells for a one-bar, quick solution, though below C5 or thereabouts the technique becomes cumbersome. So other solutions are needed. We have discussed reassigning. Two more that many directors and ringers overlook are:

1) Use a duplicate bell. It is unlikely that yours is the only handbell set in town (of course, that is true for some, so those folks will have to find a different solution). If, as an example, a B-flat 4 is giving trouble in one or two passages of a piece but can be played with no problem at all during the rest of the piece, and if that B-flat 4 can't musically and smoothly be played by a neighbor, a good solution would be to borrow a second B-flat 4 and give it to someone down the table who really does have a hand free to play that note in those measures.

I tried this method once in my community group, Pikes Peak Ringers, when I "just couldn't come up with another solution." It worked so well, that now we use duplicate bells every season for several pieces!

2) There is not hard and fast rule that says that two octaves must be rung by 7 or 8 ringers, three octaves by 11 ringers, four octaves by 12 ringers, and five octaves by 13 ringers. These are the most common arrangements, but some pieces simply cannot be played expressively and musically by the standard number of ringers.

As an example, let me tell you about a piece my group was struggling with (I'll leave titles and names out!). Everything was going fine until the last two pages - the grand finale. There were a LOT of notes on those pages! It even required three staffs to get them all written down! I knocked myself out trying to assign this ending for my 13 ringers.

We just were not playing these pages musically and smoothly. This is the one and only time I have ever done this, but I emailed the arranger and said "Ok, I hate to do this, because people do this to me all the time, but how would you play those last two pages? I always give the same answer - think outside the box, there's always a solution - but I haven't come up with one for this piece yet!" The arranger wrote me back and said, "Well, when we did it, we just got three more ringers." I wrote back and the message had only one word - "Oh."

It is NOT cheating to recruit a couple more ringers to make a piece communicate well and be practical to play!! It is actually surprisingly easy to find a ringer who, though they can't commit to a whole season of ringing, is willing to come for two or three rehearsals to help with one piece.3) The "trash" ringer. No, this isn't a disparaging remark about an individual ringer. For some pieces, it works out well to recruit an extra ringer and simply give that ringer all the troublesome accidentals for the piece. This requires marking, of course, but can be an effective way to make sure the music communicates in a relaxed fashion.

Next time - What NOT To Do When Assigning!