Infobox Instrument

*Hand percussion
A handbell is a bell designed to be rung by hand. To ring a handbell, a ringer grasps the bell by its slightly flexible handle — traditionally made of leather, but often now made of plastic — and moves the wrist to make the hinged clapper inside the bell strike. An individual handbell can be used simply as a signal to catch people's attention or summon them together, but handbells are generally heard in tuned sets. [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Hand Bell
work = The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition
publisher = Houghton Mifflin
date = 2000
url = http://www.bartleby.com/61/10/H0041050.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-02-28


The first tuned handbells were developed by brothers Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England between 1696 and 1724.Citation
last = Markey
first = Willard H.
title = More History?: From Hame Boxes to Handbells
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 43
issue = 3
pages = 36-37
date = May/June, 1997
] The Cor brothers originally made latten bells for hame boxes, [A hame box is a device that attaches to the top of a horse collar and contains several bells that ring when the horse moves. For more information about the Cor brothers and a picture of a hame box, see [http://www.aldbourne.org.uk/awg/portal/main/?Section=Features&SubSect=41+..Graham+Palmer&Story=Foundaries A Brief History of The Aldbourne Bell Foundries] .] but for reasons unknown, they began tuning their bells more finely to have an accurate fundamental tone, and fitted them with hinged clappers that only moved in one plane.

Originally, tuned sets of handbells such as the ones made by the Cor brothers were used by change ringers to rehearse outside their towers. Rather than standing for hours in the draughty towers for their practice, they could sit comfortably indoors while they practiced the complicated algorithms of change ringing. The handbell sets used by change ringers had the same number of bells as in the towers — generally six or twelve tuned to a diatonic scale. [cite web
last = Theile
first = Ron
title = The History of Handbell Ringing
url = http://handbellringers.com/handbell_history.html
accessdate = 2008-02-26

Handbells were first brought to the United States from England by Margaret Shurcliff in 1902. She was presented with a set of 10 handbells in London by Arthur Hughes, the general manager of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry after completing two separate two-and-a-half-hour change ringing peals in one day. [Citation
last = Bullen
first = Nigel
title = Researching the History of Handbells: In the Beginning
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 44
issue = 2
pages = 37-38
date = March/April, 1998


The bells used in American handbell choirs are almost always English handbells. "English handbells" is a reference to a specific type of handbells, not to the country of origin. While some American handbell choirs do use bells made in England, a large majority play bells made either by Malmark Bellcraftsmen or by Schulmerich Carillons, both based in Pennsylvania.

In the United Kingdom there is a distinction between "American handbells" and "English handbells" — "English handbells" are of a traditional type, with leather clapper heads and handles (e.g. Whitechapels), while "American handbells" instead use modern materials such as plastic and rubber to produce the same effect (e.g. Malmarks and Schulmerichs). In America, however, they are all called English handbells.


The two major defining characteristics of English handbells are their clappers and ability to produce overtones. The clapper on an English handbell is on a hinge and moves back and forth in a single direction, unlike a school bell in which the clapper swings freely in any direction. It also has a spring which holds the clapper away from the casting after the strike to allow the bell to ring freely. The overtones on an English handbell are a 12th (an octave and a perfect fifth) above the fundamental, while Dutch handbells — such as Petit & Fritsen — focus on the overtone a minor 10th (an octave and a minor third) or a major 10th (an octave and a major third) above the fundamental. Manufacturers give their attention to each bell's overtones, being especially careful to give all the bells in a set a consistent harmonic profile. Each of the foundries has a unique formula for emphasizing or de-emphasizing certain harmonic overtones to produce that bellmaker's unique sound.

Handbells can weigh as little as 4 oz. or upwards of convert|22|lb|abbr=on.

Handbell performance

A handbell choir or handbell ensemble [There is some ambiguity regarding the phrase "handbell ensemble," as some in the handbell world use "ensemble" in reference to smaller groups than a typical handbell choir — four ringers playing three octaves of bells, for example. However, several American groups have elected to change their names to use "ensemble" instead of "choir" to reduce confusion when touring internationally, as overseas concert venues did not understand that they were contracting a handbell choir rather than a voice choir. (The concept of a musical handbell is difficult to translate into some eastern European languages.)] is a group that rings recognizable music with melodies and harmony, as opposed to the mathematical permutations used in change ringing. The bells used generally include all notes of the chromatic scale within the range of the bell set. While a smaller group uses only 25 bells (two octaves), the sets are often larger, ranging up to a seven-and-a-half-octave set. The bells are typically arranged chromatically on foam-covered tables; these tables protect the bronze surface of the bell, as well as keep the bells from rolling when placed on their sides. Unlike an orchestra or choir in which each musician is responsible for one line of the texture, a bell ensemble acts as one instrument, with each musician responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.

In the United States, handbell choirs have become more popular over the last thirty years. They are often associated with churches, although the past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the number of community groups. Most community groups use larger sets of handbells than an average church handbell choir, twelve to fifteen members being a common size for a four- or five-octave choir. Many schools also include handbells in their music programs, some starting students on chimes in lower grades. Music theory, notation reading, and the cooperative effort required are a just few of the aspects that fulfill "SOL" requirements.huh Special populations also adopt handbell ringing for enjoyment, using a wide variety of musical and notation styles, leader directions and physical adaptations.Fact|date=July 2008

Handbell music

Handbell choirs generally ring music composed or arranged specifically for the instruments because of their highly resonant sound, the limited note range of a handbell set, and the unique pitch-by-pitch division of the staff among the ringers.Fact|date=July 2008

The coordination of the bell ringers requires a different approach from other ensembles. All the ringers read from a complete score. This score is similar to a piano score, but with an additional convention: The C# above middle C and all notes below are always written in the bass clef, and the Db above middle C and all notes above are always written in the treble clef. (This formatting is not always the convention for solo and small-ensemble handbell music.) Handbell music is written one octave lower than the actual sound the bells make, so a "middle C bell" or bell is actually playing a note with a high C frequency [cite web
last = Schmidt-Jones
first = Catherine
title = Transposing Instruments
url = http://cnx.org/content/m10672/latest/
accessdate = 2008-03-08
] . (For simplicity, the bell would still always be referred to as middle C or as C5.)

There are also a number of abbreviations and notations used exclusively or almost exclusively in handbell music: LV ("laissez vibrer" or "let vibrate," similar to a piano's sustain pedal); R ("ring," regular ringing or meaning to end the LV); SK ("shake," "i.e." shaking the bell continuously during the duration of the note); TD ("thumb damp" — ringing the bell with a thumb on the casting to create a staccato note); PL ("pluck," which means to throw down the clapper while the bell lays on the table); a small, solid triangle ("martellato" — to strike bell against padding of the table, pushing the casting firmly against padding as to quickly dampen sound); SW ("swing" — to play the bell in a normal position, swing it down to the waist, then bring it and back up); BD ("brush damp," brushing the rim of the bell against the ringer's chest to cause a quick diminuendo); and an upward arrow, usually with a curve at the bottom ("echo," — ringing the bell and then touching it very briefly to the table, creating an echo effect).

Due to handbells' relative rarity outside of the confines of church services -- although less so now than in the 1980s and early 1990s -- the majority of pieces composed and arranged for handbells are approximately four minutes. There are a few composers and arrangers, however, writing longer and more intricate works for handbells; generally these pieces use handbells in combination with other instruments.

Ringing techniques

To ring a handbell, the ringer moves it in such a way that the clapper strikes the inside surface of the bell, usually holding it against his or her shoulder, bell-upwards, and then swinging the bell through an elliptical shape to cause the clapper to strike the casting of the bell. The tone of the bell will continue to resonate, decaying naturally until it stops completely, or until the ringer stops the tone by damping the bell with a hand, on the body, or on a padded surface.Citation
last = Moore
first = Daniel K.
title = Technique-ly Speaking: The Basic Ringing Stroke/Shoulder Damp
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 44
issue = 3
pages = 10-11
date = May/June, 1998

Handbell techniques have changed very much over the years. Donald Allured, founding director of Westminster Concert Bell Choir, is credited with fully realizing an American "off the table" style of ringing that includes many non-ringing sound effects including stopped techniques such as plucking the clapper with the bell on the table. He is also credited for promoting precise "damping" or stopping of the bell sound by touching the bell casting to a soft surface, in the service of more musical results.Fact|date=March 2008

Multiple bell techniques

Traditional ringing technique only allows one ringer to ring two bells at a time (one in each hand). Depending on the number of bells needed for a particular piece of music and the number of ringers in a choir, it may be necessary for each ringer to ring more than two bells at a time or in short succession.

Four bells

There are two main ways of ringing two handbells with one hand: four-in-hand and Shelley. In the four-in-hand technique, ringers hold two bells in one hand with the clappers at right angles to each other. This allows the ringer to either move the hand normally ("ring" - Primary Bell) or ring knuckles-first ("knock" - Secondary Bell) to ring two different bells independently with the same hand (for a total of four bells when ringing with both hands). The two bells can also be played together by holding the wrist at a 45 degree angle. When this technique is perfected, Shelley ringing is rendered obsolete. In large ensembles, Four-in-hand is typically used to ring multiple positions or pick up accidentals.

Shelley ringing is similar, except that the clappers are each positioned the same direction. Using this technique, a ringer can then ring two bells simultaneously with one movement. Shelley is typically used to ring two notes, an octave apart. The Shelley technique can also be used to ring two notes separately by striking the primary bell sideways and the secondary bell forward in an action like tapping your fingersCitation
last = Leonard
first = Karen E.
title = Technique-ly Speaking: Shelley Ringing
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 46
issue = 5
pages = 13-14
date = September/October, 2000

ix bells

There are several ways to play six bells at a time (i.e., to ring three bells in each hand). One way is to pick two bells up as if you were Shelly ringing, then pick the third up between your pinky and ring fingers (a 'triple shelly'). All three bells ring together when ringing in a knocking motion. A second way is to pick up the third bell sideways so that the clapper swings outward. Ringers with good control can then ring the first bell without ringing the third bell, allowing the ringer to play three different notes in one hand. [cite web
last = Anderson
first = Christine
title = Multiple Bells In-Hand
date = 2000-01-14
url = http://www.knology.net/~jkearns/faqtechniques.htm#Four-in-hand/Shelley
accessdate = 2008-02-26


The large size of bass bells (below C5) make four-in-hand ringing impractical. When bass-bell ringers need to ring more than two bells in short succession, they can use the table to dampen the bell. While quickly placing one bell down on the table, a ringer can free a hand to pick up the next. This technique can also be used for smaller bells when Four-in-hand is unnecessary. If the ringing sequence requires bells to be rung in tonal order, this technique often results in a weaving pattern as the ringer must often reach across their body for the next bell in the sequence. Citation
last = Allured
first = Don
title = Technique-ly Speaking: The Weave and Other Multiple Bell Doings
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 45
issue = 3
pages = 41-44
date = May/June, 1999
] Weaving can also be used in combination with the Four-in-hand in technique called "Traveling-four-in-hand". By combining the ability to hold two bells in each hand, with the ability to quickly drop and pick up the secondary bell of a Four-in-hand, a ringer has quick access to several bells.

Other techniques

There are other ways to play music with handbells besides traditional ringing. Other techniques include plucking, shaking (or trilling), table damping (or martellato), and malleting bells (both on the table and suspended).

Plucking is accomplished by using the thumb and forefinger to force the clapper head into the casting while the bell is on the table, producing a staccato tone.Fact|date=March 2008

Shaking is accomplished by rapidly ringing the bell back and forth so that the clapper strikes both the front and back of the bell casting in quick succession. This technique created a continuous tone, as opposed to normal ringing in which the tone decays rapidly after being rung. Because of their size, bass bells are rarely shaken.Citation
last = Ebling-Thorne
first = Kathy
title = Technique-ly Speaking: The Shake and The Trill - What a Thrill!
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 44
issue = 5
pages = 9-10
date = September/October, 1998

Martellato also creates a staccato tone and is accomplished by striking the bell into the foam-covered table in such a way that the clapper strikes the casting immediately after the bell strikes the foam. A variation, called a "Mart Lift" is accomplished by lifting the bell casting off the table very soon after the clapper strikes. This creates a staccato tone followed by a softened sounding of the bell.Fact|date=March 2008

Malleting bells involves using one of several types of rubber, plastic or yarn-wrapped mallet to strike the casting of the bell. This can create a staccato tone when the casing is pressed into foam, a normal ringing tone when the bell is suspended or even a drum-roll effect when multiple mallets are used. Suspended malleting can be employed to create a bell tree which allows many bells to be played by one ringer.Citation
last = Frier
first = Louise
title = Technique-ly Speaking: Malleting Suspended Handbells
journal = Overtones: The Official Journal of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
volume = 45
issue = 5
pages = 14-16
date = September/October, 1999

ee also



Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • handbell — n. a bell that is held in the hand. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • handbell — (n.) O.E. handbelle; see HAND (Cf. hand) (n.) + BELL (Cf. bell) (n.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • handbell — noun Date: before 12th century a small bell with a handle; especially one of a set tuned in a scale for musical performance …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • handbell — hand bell n. A small bell having a handle, especially one of a set of bells tuned to different pitches and used in musical performance. * * * ▪ musical instrument  small bell usually of brass or bronze but sometimes of copper, clay, porcelain,… …   Universalium

  • handbell — noun A small bell designed to be rung by hand …   Wiktionary

  • handbell — hand·bell || hændbel n. bell that a person holds in the hand and is rung by shaking …   English contemporary dictionary

  • handbell — noun a small bell, especially one of a set tuned to a range of notes and played by a group of people …   English new terms dictionary

  • handbell — /ˈhændbɛl/ (say handbel) noun a bell rung by hand, especially one that is part of a set for musical performance …   Australian English dictionary

  • handbell — n. a small bell, usu. tuned to a particular note and rung by hand, esp. one of a set giving a range of notes …   Useful english dictionary

  • Handchime — Classification Hand percussion Idiophone Related instruments Handbells …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.