What Are the Parts of a Handbell? A Complete Guide

handbells lying on table

If you’re in a handbell choir, you likely already know that there are many moving parts to a handbell. But do you know what all of those individual parts are called? In this blog post, we’ll aim to give you a crash course in the anatomy of a handbell so that you can impress the director during your next choir rehearsal. Without further ado, let’s learn about all the different parts of a handbell from clappers to the body of the bell, and how they work together to create beautiful music.

The Anatomy of a Handbell – Exploring the Different Parts Used For Making Music

Handbells have been used for centuries to make music, traditionally within church settings as a percussion instrument. A handbell consists of a metal bell, shaped like a cup and made from an alloy mix- more on that later. This bell is mounted on an aluminum or wooden handle, which is curved slightly to fit comfortably in the hand. Finally, it has a clapper attached to its interior which is typically made out of plastic or wood, and is also covered in felt or leather to ensure the sound created is soft and melodic.

It is also important to note the different methods by which one can strike handbells. The clapper is also classically known as an internal plunger; this is the type used in church bells and provides a very bright sound when the clapper strikes against the bell body. There are also external plungers that are better suited for lower-pitch notes, as they tend to produce a softer sound. Lastly, there is the mallet style of striker which is used in musical applications, and produces a more robust, fuller sound from the bells from each ring.

Handbells come in several sizes, shapes, and materials which each help to form the unique sound associated with their ringing tone. They are most often comprised of three main parts:

  • The handle
  • The clapper
  • The bell body

Below, we’ll go into more depth on each of these three components of handbells.

The Handle – Providing a Comfortable Grip and Controlling the Bell’s Tone

The handbell’s handle is an essential part of the instrument- think of it as the base that provides control for ringers. The goal is to provide a comfortable grip for handbell players, and enable them to control the bell’s tone. The handles of the bells must be designed for precision and comfort – having just the right grip size to fit the hand of each player. A handle that does not suit a ringer will be uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful for one’s wrist! It must also enable ringers to utilize different ringing techniques such as shaking, plucking, and more.

The Clapper – Generating Various Sounds Depending on Its Contact With the Bell

The clapper is also a critical part of how handbells produce musical notes. In handbells, a clapper is a metal object which contacts the bell body to create sound. Depending on the specific handbell and how the clapper makes contact with the bell body, various musical pitches can be generated ranging from high tones to low tones.

By using different methods of making contact with the bell body with the clapper, one can create a variety of sounds with the bells. By tightening or loosening the clapper’s nut, it can be changed from striking against the inner bell more quickly or slowly, allowing for a more pronounced tone. Additionally, by adjusting the leather on the handle side of the clapper, ringers can control how much rebound it has when it strikes against the inside of the bell. This further allows a choir ensemble to customize each handbell to ensure they are getting the desired tone and volume.

The Bell Body– Creating Different Notes Through Its Vibrations

The third major part of a handbell is the actual body of the bell- this is the bowl piece responsible for creating a resonant effect that amplifies the musical notes. It requires a special alloy to create the desired sound quality, and is made in different sizes so that handbell players can create notes of varying pitches. When this bell body vibrates when it is struck by the clapper or mallets, it produces distinct melodic tones that are needed to play music.

The different sizes of bells are what one can typically think of when one sees a handbell choir perform. Three octave sets of handbells commonly used for church performances range from C4 to C7. Some bells can be quite heavy in terms of weight and require two hands to maneuver them properly, while other models are light enough to be held by one person comfortably when ringing.

Bell Metal & Pitch Levels – Explaining the different types of bell metal and their associated pitch levels

Bell metal is an alloy of copper, tin, and other metals which produces the desired sound quality with the ability to resonate. Depending on the ratio of each element within the alloy, it can be tuned to different pitch levels- from low bass levels at C4, up to high pitch octaves such as C7. Different pitch levels require different amounts of metal, and the thickness of bell metal varies from handbell to handbell.

Other Accessories that Aid in Enhancing the Sound and Performance of a Handbell

In addition to the handle, clapper, and bell body, there are also a few other key accessories that can help enhance the quality of musical notes when bells ring. Bell stands provide stability when playing, and can also allow for easier movement of ringers when a mallet is used for ringing the bells. Ruby fingers are small pieces of red felt which are inserted into slots on the inside of the bell’s rim, in order to enable a less harsh tone with the strike of a clapper. Hand straps can be used to hold multiple bells together for easier playing, while the ringer’s glove provides extra grip on each bell for more precise control over each tone.

No matter what type of handbell you play with, these are just a few examples of accessories that can help make the experience more enjoyable and improve your ability to perform complex pieces of handbell music.

Tuning and Maintenance Tips for Your Handbell

In any handbell choir, it’s important to keep the bells in tune and maintain them properly to ensure the best sound quality when playing music. Some of the key steps to check regularly when it comes to handbell maintenance are:

  • Inspecting the handbell’s clapper, which has an adjustable spring that affects the sound and can break down over time.
  • Checking that the handbell body is in good condition and free from cracks or dents, which can impact its tone.
  • Assessing the handstroke groove for metal filings that can accumulate, as this could alter the quality of the music that is produced when the bells are rung.

With regular maintenance and tuning, your bells should continue producing ear-pleasing sounds for years to come!


With the right understanding of how handbells are put together, anyone can create music ranging from classical pieces to contemporary compositions. Each part of the bell can play a vital role in producing beautiful melodies, making handbells unique instruments of their own. So don’t be afraid to give it a try – grab your set of handbells and get creative. Who knows? You could be writing some amazing tunes of your own in no time that other ringers read in choir rehearsal. Now get out there and make some awesome music!

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