How to Teach Handbells: A Clear Guide

music director explaining how to play handbells

Learning to play handbells can be a fun and rewarding experience for both children and adults. However, teaching handbells to beginners can be a daunting task, especially if you have no prior experience. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you get started.

Understanding the Handbell

Before we embark on teaching handbells, it’s crucial to understand this instrument thoroughly. Each handbell represents a particular note, much like the keys on a piano. However, unlike most instruments, the sound from handbells is created by the movement of the musician, or ringer, who must precisely control their technique to produce the desired note and dynamic. It’s a beautiful blend of physical coordination and musical knowledge. Handbells are composed of several parts, each of which plays an important role in producing sound. The following is a breakdown of the different parts of a handbell:

  • Handle: The handle is the part of the bell that is held by the ringer. It is typically made of wood or plastic and is designed to be comfortable to hold.
  • Clapper: The clapper is the part of the bell that strikes the inside of the bell to produce sound. It is attached to the inside of the bell by a leather strap.
  • Shoulder: The shoulder is the part of the bell where the handle meets the bell. It is typically rounded and smooth to allow for easy damping.
  • Waist: The waist is the narrowest part of the bell, where the bell curves inward. It is an important part of the bell’s design, as it helps to produce a clear and resonant sound.
  • Sound Bow: The sound bow is the part of the bell that produces the majority of the sound. It is the curved portion of the bell where the clapper strikes.

Basic Techniques

Learning the basics of handbell technique is essential for anyone looking to teach handbells. In this section, we will cover the three fundamental techniques of holding the handbell, ringing, and damping.

Holding the Handbell

Before learning how to ring and damp the handbell, it is important to understand how to hold it properly. The following table outlines the basic steps for holding the handbell:

StepDescription
Step 1Place the thumb over the top of the handle, between the handle and the bell.
Step 2Wrap the remaining fingers around the bottom of the handle.
Step 3Ensure that the handle is resting on the padded area between the thumb and forefinger.
Step 4Keep the wrist straight and relaxed.

Ringing Techniques

Once the handbell is held properly, it is time to learn how to ring it. The following techniques are essential for anyone learning how to ring handbells:

  • Four-in-Hand: This technique involves holding two handbells in each hand, with the bells interlocked. The ringer uses their thumbs to ring the bells, while the remaining fingers are used to dampen the bells. This technique allows for a wide range of notes to be played.
  • Martellato: This technique involves striking the bell with the clapper, producing a sharp, staccato sound. This technique is often used to accentuate specific notes in a piece of music.
  • Swing: This technique involves swinging the handbell back and forth, producing a vibrant, sustained sound. This technique is often used to create a sense of motion in a piece of music.

Damping Techniques

Damping is the process of stopping the sound of the handbell after it has been rung. The following techniques are essential for anyone learning how to damp handbells:

  • Plucking: This technique involves using the thumb and forefinger to pluck the clapper, stopping the sound of the bell.
  • Mallet: This technique involves using a soft mallet to strike the bell, stopping the sound.
  • Hand: This technique involves using the hand to cover the bell, stopping the sound.

Teaching Methods

Teaching handbells can be done in various ways, including group lessons and one-on-one lessons. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and the teacher should choose the one that best suits their students’ needs.

Group Lessons

Group lessons are an excellent way to teach handbells, especially for beginners. They provide a fun and interactive learning environment where students can learn from each other. Group lessons are also cost-effective since the teacher can teach multiple students at once.

When teaching group lessons, it is essential to ensure that each student has their own bell. The teacher should also ensure that each student understands their role in the group and their part in the music. It is also essential to provide clear instructions and demonstrations, so that each student can follow along.

Group lessons can be structured in different ways, depending on the teacher’s preference. For example, the teacher can teach the students a specific song or focus on a particular technique. The teacher can also divide the students into smaller groups and teach them different parts of the music.

One-on-One Lessons

One-on-one lessons are a great way to provide individualized attention to each student. They are ideal for students who need extra help or have specific learning needs. One-on-one lessons also allow the teacher to tailor the lessons to the student’s interests and abilities.

When teaching one-on-one lessons, the teacher should start by assessing the student’s current skill level and identifying areas where they need improvement. The teacher should then create a personalized lesson plan that focuses on the student’s needs. It is important to provide clear instructions and demonstrations, so that the student can understand the techniques.

One-on-one lessons can be structured in different ways, depending on the teacher’s preference. For example, the teacher can focus on a specific technique or teach the student a particular song. The teacher can also provide feedback and guidance to help the student improve their skills.

Overall, both group lessons and one-on-one lessons are effective ways to teach handbells. The teacher should choose the method that best suits their students’ needs and provide clear instructions and demonstrations to ensure that each student can follow along.

Lesson Planning

When teaching handbells, lesson planning is crucial for success. It helps to set objectives, choose appropriate repertoire, and create effective practice schedules.

Setting Objectives

Before starting a handbell lesson, it is important to set clear objectives. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, an objective could be to teach a specific handbell technique or to prepare for an upcoming performance.

To set objectives, the teacher should consider the skill level of the students and their learning needs. Objectives should challenge students, but not be too difficult or too easy. They should also be relevant to the overall goals of the handbell program.

Choosing Repertoire

Choosing appropriate repertoire is another important aspect of lesson planning. The repertoire should be selected based on the skill level of the students, the objectives of the lesson, and the overall goals of the handbell program.

When selecting repertoire, the teacher should consider the following:

  • The difficulty level of the music
  • The range of the bells being used
  • The musical style and genre
  • The length of the piece
  • The musicality and expressiveness of the piece

The teacher should also take into account the interests and preferences of the students.

Practice Schedules

Creating an effective practice schedule is essential for achieving the objectives of the lesson. Practice schedules should be structured and consistent. They should also be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the lesson plan.

When creating a practice schedule, the teacher should consider the following:

  • The length of the practice session
  • The number of students in the class
  • The skill level of the students
  • The objectives of the lesson
  • The repertoire being practiced

The teacher should also include warm-up exercises, technique drills, and sight-reading exercises in the practice schedule.

In summary, lesson planning is a crucial aspect of teaching handbells. Setting objectives, choosing appropriate repertoire, and creating effective practice schedules are key elements of lesson planning that will help students achieve their goals and become successful handbell players.

Performance Preparation

Preparing for a handbell performance takes time and effort. A well-prepared group can deliver an outstanding performance that will be remembered by the audience. This section will cover some rehearsal techniques and performance etiquette that can help make a handbell performance successful.

Rehearsal Techniques

When rehearsing for a handbell performance, it is important to pay attention to several key factors. First, the group should ensure that they are playing in tune. This can be achieved by using a tuning fork or a digital tuner. Additionally, the group should practice playing in unison, which can be achieved by using metronomes or by counting out loud.

Second, the group should practice dynamics. This can be achieved by playing softly or loudly, or by using crescendos and decrescendos. The group should also practice playing at different tempos, as this can add variety and interest to the performance.

Finally, the group should practice the specific pieces they will be performing. This includes practicing the transitions between pieces and ensuring that everyone knows their part. It can be helpful to have a designated leader who can keep everyone on track during rehearsals.

Performance Etiquette

When performing with handbells, there are several etiquette rules that should be followed. First, the group should dress appropriately for the performance. This can vary depending on the venue, but generally means dressing in formal or semi-formal attire.

Second, the group should be aware of their surroundings. This means being aware of the acoustics of the performance space and adjusting their playing accordingly. It also means being aware of the audience and engaging with them during the performance.

Third, the group should be prepared for unexpected situations. This includes having backup bells on hand in case of a mishap, and being able to adapt to changes in the performance space or schedule.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When teaching handbells, it is common to encounter a few issues that can hinder the learning process. Here are some common problems and solutions to help troubleshoot them:

Problem: Bells are not ringing in unison

If the bells are not ringing in unison, it can be due to several factors, such as the ringer’s technique, the bell’s condition, or the clapper’s position. Here are some possible solutions:

  • Check the ringer’s technique and ensure they are hitting the bell in the correct spot.
  • Inspect the bell’s condition and ensure it is not damaged or out of tune.
  • Adjust the clapper’s position and ensure it is centered on the bell.

Problem: Damping is not clean

Damping is the process of stopping the sound of the bell by touching it with the hand or mallet. If damping is not clean, it can result in unwanted overtones and a lack of clarity. Here are some solutions:

  • Practice damping technique and ensure it is done quickly and precisely.
  • Inspect the bell’s condition and ensure it is not damaged or out of tune.
  • Adjust the clapper’s position and ensure it is centered on the bell.

By troubleshooting these common issues, ringers can improve their technique and achieve a more unified sound.

Handbell teaching is a rewarding endeavor that allows you to witness your students evolve from novices to proficient musicians. It’s not just about the music; it’s about fostering a sense of community, teamwork, and a shared love for this unique instrument. As you guide your students through this journey, remember that patience and encouragement are your best friends. Happy ringing!

You May Also Like