Bells have been used for centuries in different countries, cultures and religions, to communicate, to worship, to celebrate and to make music. In ancient Greece and Rome, in China and in Egypt bells were used in many religious ceremonies and to announce different times of the day. Many of the handbell teams existing in the UK today started in the church tower.
In the 17th century the art of change ringing, as practised by tower bell ringers, was started. It has been suggested that the ringers, unwilling to practise on winter evenings in the cold and draughty belfries, used small hand held bells for their practices, in the more comfortable surroundings of houses and local hostelries. Tune ringing on handbells was a natural progression for some bellringers to make.
Most handbells are cast in bronze, an alloy made of approximately 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, with individual weights ranging from a few ounces to more than 15 pounds. Larger handbells are now also cast in aluminium.
The handchime (or chime) is a tubular instrument with a clapper on the side. These can range from very small instruments playing the highest notes - to those many feet in length (or height as they usually played on a rack) for the bass notes.
The second innovation was the Belleplate a flat, triangular-shaped instrument with attached clapper
Chimes and Belleplates are both played in a similar way to handbells, and can serve as a good introduction to ringing handbells as well as providing contrasting timbre and tone for players already using bells. These are much lighter in weight than bells and ideal for the young or infirm ringer. For more information see www.belleplates.co.uk
Bell sizing can be confusing; there are three systems, English, American and (not often used now) Dutch. The pdf docu,ment at the foot of the page shows the comparisons of the English and American sizes against the note position in the appropriate clef.
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