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Home > Articles > Professor Handbell: Ringing with Fewer People

Professor Handbell: Ringing with Fewer People

As higher temperatures start to warm up the Northern Hemisphere we find that handbell choir participation tends to drop. Never fear, Professor Handbell is here with the supreme solution for relaxation-induced ringer removal!

Ringing with fewer people can be as simple or challenging as you want it to be. There are a plethora of titles written as duets, trios, quartets, quintets, etc., etc. Small ensemble music can bring new techniques to light that may at first seem daunting, but with carefully applied research and experimentation your small group will be ready to ring in no time.

Here are just a few of the techniques that would be helpful to practice:

1. Weaving: The definition of weaving is “the technique of playing a succession of bells by changing which bell is in each hand as required”. With fewer ringers, each ringer may be responsible for a larger number of bells than they are accustomed to (indeed, in some small ensemble pieces there is no such thing as bell assignments-one bell may be rung by every ringer at some point or another!) Weaving incorporates table damping and changing hands, which may seem a little foreign at first but with practice comes perfection! There are some wonderful resources available for learning weaving. Rod Lloyd with Columbia River Handbells has a fantastic series on YouTube, called Handbell 101, which covers many techniques, including weaving. “Developing Coordination Skills” by Michael Keller has 50 progressive exercises to work ringers up to weaving.

2. Setting your handbells or handchimes up in keyboard chromatic order (and keeping them that way as you ring) is important for small ensemble success. This allows for muscle memory to develop and assists with the concept that there are not “my bells” and “their bells”. Chromatic order also allows for easy sharing between ringers because the bells will always be in the same place.

3. Practice passing handbells or handchimes from ringer to ringer. Some pieces may require a quick hand off. To practice, have one ringer stand next to another with the bell or chime in the first ringer's hand. The first ringer will remove all their fingers except their thumb and pointer finger from the handle while their partner reaches underneath the bell to take hold of the handle. The passer then releases their last 2 fingers and the passee has full control of the bell.

4. Avoid shoulder damping! This movement (though quite impressive looking) takes longer than table damping and can impact the tempo of a smaller arrangement.

5. Remember, smaller ensembles don't necessarily need a conductor, but do require a leader to start pieces, end pieces, and direct musical flourishes like fermatas.

If you are just beginning to ring as a small ensemble or have limited rehearsal time, it may be worth your while to inspect a few simple 12 bell arrangements. At we have over 50 titles written for 12 bells. (Simply navigate to our marvelous Music Selection Assistant, locate the “Classification” header and look under that header to find “Titles Using 12 Bells” at the bottom of the 3rd column). There are collections and single titles for any season under the sun (and any budget under the sun)!

Well future ensemble ringers, I hope this little note has been encouraging and enlightening. Handbells don't have to take a summer siesta if you can recruit just a couple of interested and dedicated ringers who are not afraid of an exciting challenge. Have a safe and scientific summer and as always, happy ringing!