is a bell
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...
designed to be rung by hand. To ring a handbell, a ringer grasps the bell by its slightly flexible handle — traditionally made of leather, but often now made of plastic — and moves the wrist to make the hinged clapper inside the bell strike. An individual handbell can be used simply as a signal to catch people's attention or summon them together, but handbells are generally heard in tuned sets.
The first tuned handbells were developed by brothers Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne
Aldbourne is a village and civil parish about northeast of Marlborough in Wiltshire, England. It is in a valley in the south slope of the Lambourn Downs, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty...
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
, between 1696 and 1724. The Cor brothers originally made latten
The term Latten refers loosely to copper alloys, much like brass, employed in the Middle Ages and through to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, for items such as decorative effect on borders, rivets or other details of metalwork , livery and pilgrim badges and for funerary effigies. It was...
bells for hame
Hame or hames may refer to:*Häme, a province of Finland*Hames, a pair of curved metal pieces lying on the horse collar of a horse harness, taking the pull from the traces...
boxes, but for reasons unknown, they began tuning their bells more finely to have an accurate fundamental tone, and fitted them with hinged clappers that moved only in one plane.
Originally, tuned sets of handbells, such as the ones made by the Cor brothers, were used by change ringers
Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called "changes". It differs from many other forms of campanology in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody....
to rehearse outside their towers. Tower bell ringers' enthusiasm for practicing the complicated algorithms of change ringing can easily exceed the neighbours' patience, so in the days before modern sound control handbells offered them a way to continue ringing without the aural assault. The handbell sets used by change ringers had the same number of bells as in the towers — generally six or 12 tuned to a diatonic scale
In music theory, a diatonic scale is a seven note, octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps...
Handbells were first brought to the United States from England by Margaret Shurcliff in 1902. She was presented with a set of 10 handbells in London by Arthur Hughes, the general manager of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a bell foundry in Whitechapel in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in the East End of London. The foundry is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest manufacturing company in Great Britain...
after completing two separate two-and-a-half-hour change ringing peal
A peal is the name given to a specific type of performance of change ringing. The precise definition of a peal has changed considerably over the years...
s in one day.
The bells used in American handbell choirs are almost always English handbells. "English handbells" is a reference to a specific type of handbells, not to the country of origin. While some American handbell choirs do use bells made in England, the majority play bells made either by Malmark Bellcraftsmen or by Schulmerich Carillons, both based in Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...
In the United Kingdom, there is a distinction between "American handbells" and "English handbells" — "English handbells" are traditional, with leather clapper heads and handles (such as the bells Whitechapel makes), while "American handbells" use modern materials, such as plastic and rubber, to produce the same effect (such as those produced by Malmark and Schulmerich). In America, however, they are all called English handbells.
The two major defining characteristics of English handbells are their clappers and ability to produce overtones
Pitched musical instruments are often based on an approximate harmonic oscillator such as a string or a column of air, which oscillates at numerous frequencies simultaneously. At these resonant frequencies, waves travel in both directions along the string or air column, reinforcing and canceling...
. The clapper on an English handbell is on a hinge and moves back and forth in a single direction, unlike a school bell in which the clapper swings freely in any direction. It also has a spring that holds the clapper away from the casting after the strike to allow the bell to ring freely. Furthermore, the shaft of the clapper is rigid, such that the bell may be held with its mouth facing upward. The overtones on an English handbell are a 12th (an octave and a perfect fifth) above the fundamental, while Dutch handbells — such as Petit & Fritsen
Royal Bellfounders Petit & Fritsen, based in Aarle-Rixtel, the Netherlands, is the oldest family-owned business in the Netherlands, with the foundry dating back to 1660. Included on List of oldest companies...
— focus on the overtone a minor 10th (an octave and a minor third) or a major 10th (an octave and a major third) above the fundamental.
Handbells can weigh as little as 7 oz (198.4 g) or upwards of 18 lb (8.2 kg).
A handbell choir
or handbell ensemble
(in the United States) or handbell team
(in England) is a group that rings recognizable music with melodies
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...
, as opposed to the mathematical permutations used in change ringing. The bells used generally include all notes of the chromatic scale
The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the half steps are the same size...
within the range of the bell set. While a smaller group uses only 25 bells (two octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...
s, G4-G6), the sets are often larger, ranging up to an eight-octave set (97 bells, C1-C9). The bells are typically arranged chromatically on foam-covered tables; these tables protect the bronze surface of the bell, as well as keep the bells from rolling when placed on their sides. Unlike an orchestra or choir in which each musician is responsible for one line of the texture, a bell ensemble acts as one instrument, with each musician responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.
Handbell choirs generally ring music composed or arranged specifically for the instruments because of their highly resonant sound, the limited note range of a handbell set, and the unique pitch-by-pitch division of the staff among the ringers.
The coordination of the bell ringers requires a different approach than other ensembles. All the ringers read from a complete score. This score is similar to a piano score, but with an additional convention: The C# above middle C
C or Do is the first note of the fixed-Do solfège scale. Its enharmonic is B.-Middle C:Middle C is designated C4 in scientific pitch notation because of the note's position as the fourth C key on a standard 88-key piano keyboard...
and all notes below are always written in the bass clef, and the Db above middle C and all notes above are always written in the treble clef. (This formatting is not always the convention for solo and small-ensemble handbell music.) Handbell music is written one octave lower than the actual sound the bells make, so a "middle C bell" or bell is actually playing a note with a high C frequency. (For simplicity, the bell would still always be referred to as middle C or as C5.)
There are also a number of abbreviations and notations used exclusively or almost exclusively in handbell music: LV ("laissez vibrer" or "let vibrate," similar to a piano's sustain pedal); R ("ring," regular ringing or meaning to end the LV); SK ("shake," i.e.
shaking the bell continuously during the duration of the note); TD ("thumb damp" — ringing the bell with a thumb on the casting to create a staccato note); PL ("pluck," which means to throw down the clapper while the bell lies on the table); a small, solid triangle ("martellato" — to strike bell against padding of the table, pushing the casting firmly against padding as to quickly dampen sound); SW ("swing" — to play the bell in a normal position, swing it down to the waist, then bring it and back up); BD ("brush damp," brushing the rim of the bell against the ringer's chest to cause a quick diminuendo); and an upward arrow, usually with a curve at the bottom ("echo," — ringing the bell and then touching it very briefly to the table, creating an echo effect).
Due to handbells' relative rarity outside of the confines of church services—although less so now than in the 1980s and early 1990s—the majority of pieces composed and arranged for handbells last approximately four minutes. A few composers and arrangers write longer and more intricate works for handbells; generally these pieces use handbells in combination with other instruments.
To ring a handbell, the ringer moves it in such a way that the clapper strikes the inside surface of the bell, usually holding it against his or her shoulder, bell-upwards, and then swinging the bell through an elliptical shape to cause the clapper to strike the casting of the bell. The tone of the bell will continue to resonate, decaying naturally until it stops completely, or until the ringer stops the tone by damping the bell with a hand, on the body, or on a padded surface.
Handbell techniques have changed very much over the years. Donald Allured, founding director of Westminster Concert Bell Choir
Westminster Choir College is a residential college of music, part of Rider University, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States.Westminster Choir College educates men and women at the undergraduate and graduate levels for musical careers in music education, voice performance, piano...
, is credited with fully realizing an American "off the table" style of ringing that includes many non-ringing sound effects including stopped techniques such as plucking the clapper with the bell on the table. He is also credited for promoting precise damping
or stopping of the bell sound by touching the bell casting to a soft surface, in the service of more musical results.
Multiple bell techniques
Traditional ringing technique only allows one ringer to ring two bells at a time (one in each hand). Depending on the number of bells needed for a particular piece of music and the number of ringers in a choir, it may be necessary for each ringer to ring more than two bells at a time or in short succession. There are also many techniques that change the sound of the bell as it is rung.
There are two main ways of ringing two handbells with one hand: four-in-hand and Shelley. In the four-in-hand technique, ringers hold two bells in one hand with the clappers at right angles to each other. This allows the ringer to either move the hand normally ("ring" - Primary Bell) or ring knuckles-first ("knock" - Secondary Bell) to ring two different bells independently with the same hand (for a total of four bells when ringing with both hands). The two bells can also be played together by holding the wrist at a 45 degree angle. Two opposing viewpoints exist regarding the merits of this technique: while some believe that Shelley ringing is rendered obsolete when four-in-hand is perfected, others believe that the control, balance and precision offered by Shelley ringing makes the technique more applicable in certain ringing situations (particularly those involving other techniques, such as shaking and martellato, which are nearly impossible to "perfect" with four-in-hand ringing).
In large ensembles, Four-in-hand is typically used to ring multiple positions or pick up accidentals.
Shelley ringing is similar, except that the clappers are each positioned the same direction. Using this technique, a ringer can then ring two bells simultaneously with one movement. Shelley is typically used to ring two notes, an octave apart. The motion of the clappers in the same plane makes feasible techniques which generally require this, such as martellato, vibrato and shake, all of which are difficult (if not impossible) to achieve with four-in-hand ringing. The Shelley technique can also be used to ring two notes separately by striking the primary bell sideways and the secondary bell forward in an action like tapping your fingers.
There are several ways to play six bells at a time (i.e., to ring three bells in each hand). One way is to pick two bells up as if one were Shelley ringing, then pick the third up between one's little and ring fingers (a 'triple Shelley'). All three bells ring together when ringing in a knocking motion. A second way is to pick up the third bell sideways so that the clapper swings outward. Ringers with good control can then ring the first bell without ringing the third bell, allowing the ringer to play three different notes in one hand.
Weaving is the technique of playing a succession of bells by changing which bell is in each hand as required. This is used by bass bell ringers and solo/small ensemble ringers. The large size and weight of bass bells makes four-in-hand ringing impractical and often a solo or small ensemble ringer will need to move up and down a range of bells, possibly sharing them with others. This technique means that more than two bells can be rung in short succession, using the table to damp the bell and free the hand to pick up the next bell. If the ringing sequence requires bells to be rung in tonal order, this technique often results in a weaving pattern as the ringer must often reach across their body for the next bell in the sequence.
Weaving can also be used in combination with the four-in-hand in a technique called "traveling four-in-hand". By combining the ability to hold two bells in each hand, with the ability to quickly drop and pick up the secondary bell of a Four-in-hand, a ringer has quick access to several bells.
There are other ways to play music with handbells besides traditional ringing. Other techniques include plucking, shaking (or trilling), table damping (or martellato), and malleting bells (both on the table and suspended).
technique adds a brief pulse of increased volume to a sustained handbell note. This is accomplished by gently touching the rim of a vibrating bell to the padded table.
bells involves using one of several types of rubber, plastic or yarn-wrapped mallet to strike the casting of the bell. This can create a staccato tone when the casing is pressed into padding, a normal ringing tone when the bell is suspended or even a drum-roll effect when multiple mallets are used or multiple hits on the bell are played. Suspended malleting can be employed to create a bell tree which allows many bells to be played by one ringer.
also creates a staccato tone and is accomplished by striking the bell into the foam-covered table in such a way that the clapper strikes the casting immediately after the bell strikes the foam. A variation, called a "Mart Lift" is accomplished by lifting the bell casting off the table very soon after the clapper strikes. This creates a staccato tone followed by a softened sounding of the bell.
is accomplished by using the thumb and forefinger to force the clapper head into the casting while the bell is on the table with the handle towards you, producing a staccato
Staccato is a form of musical articulation. In modern notation it signifies a note of shortened duration and separated from the note that may follow by silence...
tone. Each pluck is a single note.
is accomplished by rapidly ringing the bell back and forth so that the clapper strikes both the front and back of the bell casting in quick succession. This technique creates a continuous sound, as opposed to normal ringing in which the tone decays rapidly after being rung. Because of their size, bass bells are rarely shaken.
The Singing Bell
technique creates a sustained pitch similar to the sound a wine glass makes as its rim is stroked with a wet fingertip, and is accomplished in much the same way. A short wooden dowel or stick is touched to the outside of the rim of a handbell, which is being held in the other hand. The dowel is then used to stroke the rim of the bell in a circular or "stirring" motion. The Singing Bell technique is adapted from the "Singing Bowl
Singing bowls are a type of bell, specifically classified as a standing bell. Rather than hanging inverted or attached to a handle, singing bowls sit with the bottom surface resting...
" tradition of Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...
A Tower Swing
is when the bell is rung and then swung down and a bit behind the ringer and back up to a normal position. Doing this creates an "echo" effect. The mouth of the bell must rotate around to create the sound change that resemble a tower bell. Usually this is done over a period of three or four beats' worth of time.
technique provides a staccato sound similar to plucking or malleting. This is often described as a "tinkling" sound. The bell is rung normally with a thumb or several fingers touching the outside of the bell below the rim. This damps the bell's sound immediately after it's rung. With smaller bells, this technique can often be easier than plucking or malleting because the bells don't have to lay on the table.
Handbells be played in as a handbell tree
where the handles are interlaced within each other, allowing multiple bells to be played with mallets to obtain an undamped sound. This performance technique was invented by Louise Frier in the 1980s. It was further developed by Barbara Brocker who developed a standardized bell layout. It is practiced by many handbell soloists.
Composers, arrangers, performers
- Bells on Temple Square
The Bells on Temple Square handbell choir is an official music organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was formed in 2005 under the direction of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir...
- Cynthia Dobrinski
Cynthia Dobrinski is a composer and arranger of handbell music.She currently has more than 175 works in print. She also works as an instructor and has conducted about 350 handbell workshops and festivals internationally....
- Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir
The Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir is the internationally acclaimed community handbell choir from Fort Worth, TX. Founded in 1964 to be a part of the annual Christmas play-pageant The Littlest Wiseman, the choir has evolved into a world-renowned musical organization.The Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir strives to...
- Pikes Peak Ringers
The Pikes Peak Ringers is a community handbell choir based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The group was established in 1991 by its director, Kevin McChesney, to provide an outlet for advanced ringers and to create performances that showcase the instrument of handbells with the highest quality...