If ringing two bells at a time is getting to be a bit too easy during handbell choir rehearsal, then you may be looking for a new challenge. If so, then this guide is for you! We’ll explore the basics of four-in-hand handbell ringing- including the handbell techniques utilized, as well as various exercises and drills that can help enhance your skills. It may look intimidating at first, but don’t worry- we’ll break it down for you little by little.
Background of The Four in Hand Technique
Four-in-hand handbell ringing is a unique technique of bell ringing that involves handbells held in pairs and rung by hand. It’s practiced largely in handbell choirs, often out of necessity if a choir does not have enough members to distribute two bells to each ringer evenly. One ringer can cover four bells using this method, which can especially be useful in choirs with multiple octaves.
British-style four-in-hand ringing is a type of handbell ringing that involves playing two bells in the same hand, with the clapper of each bell moving in perpendicular directions. It’s slightly different from the “ring and knock” style that is more common in the United States. There are two main styles of British four-in-hand ringing: Northern style and the Southern style. Northern four-in-hand ringing uses a method known as “twinkle change”, which involves quickly alternating the bells so that each one rings twice before switching to the next. Southern four-in-hand ringing utilizes “cover changes”, where all the bells are rung simultaneously but with different clappers so that only two are heard at any given time.
The challenge with four-in-hand ringing is that it requires extreme concentration and control to ensure that the bells ring in the intended way, whether you desire them to ring simultaneously or separately. This can be difficult to master and takes patience, practice, and skill developed over time- traits that any ringer should strive for regardless!
How to properly hold the bells
Learning how to properly hold your two handbells in one hand is essential for four-in-hand ringing. You will have a primary bell, as well as secondary bell for this technique. Start by laying your secondary bell down flat on your handbell table, and then overlay the primary bell on top in a perpendicular direction (this also can be described as crossed right angles). The two bells in each hand should be held close together, but also not held too tightly between your thumb and index finger. Your other fingers should lightly rest on the handle, offering you enough control ability to ring the bells in the same direction or also in different directions using certain wrist motions.
Four-in-Hand Technique Vs. Shelley Technique
Shelley ringing is technically when one uses two bells in the same hand to ring the bells at the same time. One can also call this the shelley position, which is similar to how one first creates their four-in-hand bell set. It’s different from four in hand ringing in that four in hand encompasses the entire technique, which can mean a few different things! Another important thing to note is that bass bells cannot be used for playing four in hand; they are simply too big and would result in damaging the bells in the process. A lower bell (usually below C5) is strictly meant for either playing with one hand, or while on the table using a mallet.
Perfecting the Technique
In many ways, four in hand ringing with multiple bells is just like a ring with one bell in your hand- as you ring, glide the bells back and forth at the end of each stroke with a circular motion. This will help carry the pitch of the note, and not create a discordant effect
To ring the bells effectively, you’ll need to raise your arms so that the secondary set (farthest from you) can be played using the standard ringing stroke. Make sure not to drop or lower them while playing – keep their sides facing forward as if there’s a real audience in front of you! If it feels uncomfortable when starting out, a slight wrist bend towards yourself is acceptable- just be careful not to injure yourself doing this in the long term.
With practice, you can achieve a graceful and beautiful inward stroke from your primary bell. Visualize an “inward-and-upward scoop” motion for each note rather than a downward move to produce the desired sound with clarity. As you become more accomplished in playing this way, consider slightly turning your arm so that the back of it faces toward you – allowing for even smoother transitions between longer musical notes!
The thumb damp is also an important part of four in hand- here, you are allowed to stop the sound of the note with your fingers, vs. solely using the table in front of you for damping. Other bell-ringing techniques such as using the swing, mallets, and more apply the same way when utilizing four in hand style.
How to Perform Four-in-Hand In A Choir Group
Handbell music that does not require higher notes to be rung in quick succession is especially suited for four-in-hand players. Again, this arrangement may be required out of necessity, which is completely okay! Your audience will appreciate the lengths that such handbell ringers are willing to go to in order to perform such a composition of music.
When handbell ringing, it’s easy to become frustrated when everything seems out of sync. Miscommunication between ringers often leads to missed beats or clashing handbells, so be sure to communicate with one another beforehand and refrain from talking while performing. This is one instrument that especially requires collaboration between groups, as for example, it can be difficult for the treble section to hear the bass group from opposite ends of a handbell table. Keep in mind that practice makes perfect, and that handbells are meant to be an enjoyable activity- the beautiful sound that can be created is completely worth it as well!
Four-in-hand handbell ringing is a powerful and captivating art form that can bring a unique sound to any performance. If this post inspired you, keep in mind that two bells in each hand are not the absolute limit- handbell ringers can even cover six bells at a time using the three-in-hand technique!
While the technical aspects may seem daunting at first, with time, hard work, and dedication anyone can learn the four-in-hand technique to create beautiful melodies. If you want a fun way to challenge yourself musically and create something special with your bell choir group, experiment with the four-in-hand style- you never know how it will turn out! So what are you waiting for? If you are ready to take your ringing to the next level, start practicing today!