How To Mark Handbell Music

woman marking a piece of handbell music

Learning a new piece of handbell music? Whether you’re an experienced bell ringer or brand new to the craft, it’s important to understand how best to prepare and mark up your handbell music. With the right prep techniques, you can be confident that every rehearsal goes off without a hitch and that your choir’s performance leaves the audience hoping for more (your director will thank you too). In this blog post, we will explore the basics on handbell notation and symbols as well as some tips on how best to mark up handbell music.

Should you Even Mark Your music In the First place?

This one is for all of you experienced ringers out there- you may be inclined to not worry about having to mark your music, however the answer to this question is still a resounding yes! Marking your music not only helps you to stay on track during rehearsals, it also allows you to easily identify any mistakes or changes you need to make throughout the song. You may be able to read musical notes in each clef without any issues, however there are other ways to mark music besides only for individual music notes.

Understand the basics of handbell music notation

As you know, handbell music uses a unique system that involves assigning different notes to different bells. Each bell represents a specific pitch, and the notation within the music tells the ringer which bell to play as well as when to play it during the song.

If you don’t read music, you will want to understand which bells are assigned to you so that you can mark the points in time that you are supposed to ring within the sheet music appropriately. Doing this will allow you to stay on top of when and how you should be ringing each note. This does require you to understand certain music principles such as rhythm, tempo, and musical dynamics. By simply counting beats within measures, you will be able to stay on top of when to ring your specific bells. There are many folks that do not read music during handbell choir performances, and the audience is never able to tell the difference!

Familiarize yourself with the different symbols used in handbell notation

As mentioned, you will want to familiarize yourself with basic musical principles, even if you do not read individual note values found in the treble or bass clef. Special symbols throughout the song can have a big impact on how the composition ultimately sounds- these can be valuable to mark within your music so that you do not forget to emphasize these while performing.

Things such as accents, fermatas, crescendos, and decrescendos are all markings that will help you to understand when specific dynamics should be played or how long certain notes should be held. Other symbols such as staccato marks can also indicate which notes need to be played shorter than those in the regular rhythmic value.

To round out the key symbols for now, markings such as slurs will help you to understand which notes should be played in a connected manner, as well as what the overall dynamic of a piece is supposed to sound like.

By understanding and marking these symbols, you will be able to ensure that your handbell performance is in line with the composer’s vision and sound as best it can. There are more than jut these mentioned, but this should be a great start in order to give you a taste of how handbell music can change throughout a typical composition.

What to Mark In Your music

Below are a few of the potential things you will want to mark within your sheet music

  • Initial bell distributuion

  • When to play your assigned bells throughout the piece

  • Mood of the composition (the style in which you should play)

  • Key adjustments mid-way through the music, such as if you need to change your assigned bell or thumb damp

  • When to switch to four-in-hand, if necessary

  • Using the same bell as another ringer at certain points during the piece

  • Page changes- this is an important one! There are a few different ways binder friends to help you with page turns

  • Octave doubling of notes

  • Special performance tactics, such as turning towards an “eye in the sky”

  • Performance tips toward the conclusion of the piece- such as making sure use proper chest damping, etc.

This is a non-exhaustive list of tips, so remember that at the end of the day, you can mark whatever you please (except probably not your actual music stands)!

What Else To Know About Marking Your Music

Try to be conscious of other ringers- if you will be sharing music within your choir, try to make your markings make sense to others if they were to pick up your binder out of the blue. You can also use stickers to assign specific bells to certain pages or sections in the song so that you don’t have to look them up every time.

Additionally, you can also add cues to remind yourself of a specific melody at certain points in the composition. This can be especially helpful if you ever need to make any last-minute changes or corrections during rehearsals. Another pro tip is to use different colored highlighters while marking your music, especially if you play two bells. This will allow you to stay organized and know exactly which of your two handbells you should be playing at any given time.

It is important to remember that music is a form of art- so have fun while marking your music! You don’t always need to know what a treble clef is in order to put on a musical performance (just don’t tell the audience that)!


Learning how to mark handbell music is an important skill as it helps to stay on track during rehearsals and prepare you for a successful performance. With the right understanding of handbell notation, you can be sure that all of your markings make sense both to you and other ringers in the choir. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start ringing!

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