A Step-By-Step Guide On How To Tune Handbells

handbells lying on table

Tuning handbells is an important step to getting the best sound out of them and performing beautiful music with your handbell choir. Although a professional typically tunes handbells, with some practice you can learn how to do it yourself without having to send anything back to the manufacturer. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the basics of tuning handbells so that you can start performing your musical compositions with the best quality sound.

Can handbells go out of tune?

The short answer is yes, handbells can indeed go out of tune. Ringers should be on the lookout for signs of strain from their handbells, as there is some basic maintenance that can be performed ahead of time to prevent the worst effects. A visible dent in the handbell is not only a sign of deteriorating beauty, but it can also be a signal that the handbell is no longer in tune (in addition to needing repair!).

An Intro to Handbell Tuning

Tuning handbells may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and some basic knowledge, it can be done easily. Handbells are not like other instruments such as a piano, where you need to hire someone to do the job for potentially thousands of dollars! It also goes without saying that we handbell ringers are a resourceful bunch as well- we are very using to learning music on the fly, so a bit of handbell tuning is a welcome challenge.

The preliminary step to tuning handbells is to check the note of each bell against an electronic tuning device. If you don’t have a tuning device, there are some handy smartphone apps available that you can download in order to check the notes against the correct pitch. Once you’ve identified which bells are out of tune, you can proceed with the following steps. Here are some steps you can take to tune handbells for your next performance:

  1. Gather the necessary tools. You will need a tuning fork, a pair of pliers, a mallet, and a tuning hammer. These tools will help you adjust the pitch of each bell.

  2. Determine the desired pitch. Before you start tuning, you need to know what pitch you want each bell to play. This will depend on the specific piece of music you are performing. You can use a piano (as long as it is already in tune!) or another instrument to determine the desired sounds, as long as you are able to properly hear the correct melody.

  3. Adjust the clapper. The clapper is the part of the bell that strikes the metal and creates sound. To adjust the pitch, you can use a pair of pliers to bend the clapper up or down. This will change the distance between the clapper and the bell, which affects the pitch.

  4. Adjust the length of the bell. The length of the bell also affects the sounds that the bell makes. To adjust the length, you can use a tuning hammer to gently tap the bell in the correct spot. This will cause the metal to stretch slightly, altering the sounds that the bell makes.

  5. Check the tuning with the tuning fork. Once you have adjusted the clapper and length, use the tuning fork to check the pitch of each bell. Strike the fork and hold it next to the bell to compare the two pitches. Adjust as needed until they match.

  6. Practice and fine-tune. You should also take into account how tandem ringing on handbells affects the tuning of the bells. This means that even if a bell is perfectly tuned when stationary, it may be out of tune when two or more bells are played together. To avoid this problem, make sure to check the sound of the bells while all of them are being rung, and adjust accordingly.

Harmonics of Handbells

Handbell harmonics alter tuning in several ways. Harmonics are bell overtones or secondary pitches. Handbells produce many harmonics that interact with each other and the fundamental pitch to create a complex, rich sound.

Consider these harmonics when tuning handbells. If a bell is out of tune, altering its length or clapper position to match the basic pitch may not be enough. Harmonic modifications may be needed to match the fundamental pitch.

Pair tuning is a harmonically-aware handbell tuning method. This includes comparing two bells played together and tweaking each bell until their sounds and harmonics match. Pair tuning takes time, but handbell choirs can sound more harmonious and precise during performances as a result.

Are Bass Bells Harder To Tune?

Bass handbells are absolutely heavier and harder to tune- no two ways about it. The larger the bell, the lower its notes, hence a small change can change pitch significantly. This makes exact handbell tuning for such lower bells harder, especially for beginners. A strong tuning fork and pitch sense are essential- one may also wish to use mallets as a part of the process for tuning bass bells, due to their sheer size. Having multiple octaves in a handbell choir most likely make bass bells a necessity for your group, so it is important to have them in tune so that you can ring music to the best of your ability.


Tuning handbells can be a daunting and thankless task at first, but with a little bit of persistence, one can get the hang of it rather quickly. By following these simple steps for how to tune handbells, you’ll soon be ringing beautiful melodies in no time! Thank us later for the thunderous applause from your audience.

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