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Home > Articles > Winter 2008: Sustained Repeated Notes

Winter 2008: Sustained Repeated Notes
Kevin McChesney

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 on 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 crescendoes and diminuendos and other musical shadings as required by the music, and being sure to support the musical elements that are being played by the group as a whole.

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.


For stopped techniques- plucking, 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 and repeated here (it cannot be overemphasized!): 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 standard 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 not 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. It is vital to explore these possibilities when playing repeated note passages using these techniques.