Handbell choirs are popular church musical groups and community ensembles, and although handbell technique can become quite advanced, handbells are also easy to introduce to people who do not read music. Because creating music with handbells is a collective effort, music education for handbells focuses on teaching ringers how to fit in to the choir. Exercises for handbells begin with basic techniques for producing a quality sound on the instrument and progress through music theory and more advanced ringing techniques.
Exercising Basic Skills
Basic handbell technique should include exercises for handbells that teach ringers multiple basic rhythmic patterns and combinations of note lengths. Additionally, ringers will need to practice the basic time signatures for the first pieces of music. Basic training should also include exercises for handbells that practice the techniques for producing sound---the ring and lift---and for stopping sound---the damp. Use unison exercises, where everyone practices the same techniques at the same time, and exercises in which each ringer plays a different part. One text you can use with your handbell choir is "Basic Training for Bells" by Venita MacGorman.
Additional exercises for handbells should include more specific and advanced rhythm training, since rhythm makes up a large part of handbell ringing. Incorporate and practice new rhythms in your handbell exercises and use repetition to reinforce new concepts. Another text for rhythm exercises specifically is "Basic Training 2: Rhythm Training for Ringers," also by Venita MacGorman.
Coordination is another essential skill for handbell technique, and ringers must learn how to coordinate not only with the choir, but also with themselves when using both hands to ring multiple bells. Basic coordination exercises for handbells should simply practice ringing and damping, as well as changing from one hand's bell to the other. Additional coordination exercises for handbells include more advanced drills in fast ringing and changing volume. Michael Keller has two exercise books fro coordination, "Developing Coordination Skills" and the sequel "Developing More Advanced Coordination and Technical Skills."
More advanced handbell technique may include the use of mallets on the handbells, so as you begin incorporating mallets into your music education, you will need to include exercises and drills that use the mallets. While ringers may be familiar with rhythms from their handbell exercises, they will need to relearn how to execute the rhythms using mallets instead of their hands, since the use of mallets changes the timing of rhythms. Ringers will also need to relearn coordination skills with basic drills for mallets, repeating rhythms and alternating between playing and stopping sound.
Music Theory and Sight Reading
More advanced exercises for handbells should include practice reading music notation---the note values, time signatures, key signatures and accidentals---and vocabulary referring to the speed of the music, the volume dynamics and the signs indicating when to repeat and stop. Do sight-reading exercises for handbells by having your handbell choir practice playing through sheet music that contains all of these elements at a level slightly easier than that which you would have them practice to perform.
Exercises for Kids
In addition to the exercises that adults use to learn handbell technique, you can also employ other music education tools when teaching children to play handbells. "Beginning Busy Ringers" by Kirsty Mitchell provides puzzles and games about handbell playing, and Alfred, a well-known music education company, also publishes bingo games for learning notes and rhythms.
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