Schools Key Advantages
The key advantages of Handbell Ringing in terms of pupils’ musicianship are:
- Each member of a handbell ensemble only plays a small number of notes. For the tune and all parts of the music to be played well the ringers must listen carefully to each other and play as a team.
- In a typical brass, recorder, string or woodwind ensemble where 2, 3, or more pupils are all playing the same part it does not matter if one player misses a note or two, as someone else will play them. In a typical handbell ensemble it matters if a player misses a note as no one else is likely to be playing it. This means that players learn that they share responsibility for the performance.
- In a typical brass, recorder, string or woodwind ensemble players generally play either the melody or the accompaniment. In a typical handbell ensemble a player may be playing the melody in one bar and be part of the accompaniment in the next. This means that they need to be sensitive to the different needs of melody and accompaniment and be able to play them both.
- Handbell ringing does not require any complex fingering or techniques, so young people can play quite complex music quite quickly, and can focus on the ensemble skills of listening and playing sensitively rather than the mechanical skills or learning to play an instrument.
We are not trying to suggest that pupils should not learn other instruments - far from it - but these are important advantages when pupils are learning the skills and attitudes to the music and to other musicians that are needed in good ensemble playing.
What do pupils and teachers say about playing handbells?
- From a child in Finchampstead, Berkshire:-
“To get the music we have to work together as one'"
- From a teenager in Croydon, Surrey:
"I really enjoy bell band and when I go to senior school I want to still play bells"
- From a teacher in the West Midlands:
“Alice’s concentration has really improved through attending handbell group” – Alice (not her real name) has special educational needs.
From a teacher near Norwich:
"Over a period of time I have noticed even very young players' concentration spans improving. They ask questions and take a keen interest in the music. The children listen to each other as they play. This helps them to recognise when it is their turn to ring. In any group there are always some members who are more able than others. I frequently notice the more able ones helping out the less able, maybe pointing to the music or giving a bar number. I have been impressed particularly with less able pupils who, despite not being able to read music and play other instruments, can ring successfully. This leads to a notable increase in their confidence and a pride in their performance through making music. Past pupils often greet me by saying that they remember fondly their experience of ringing handbells"
From a teacher in Surrey:
"It has taught them skills which are transferable into and from other disciplines and areas of life - team work, how to handle nerves, how to carry on when things go wrong (not give up), the importance of presentation"
From a young person quoted on YouTube:
"Handbells have to be one of the coolest-sounding musical instruments ever!"
Is handbell ringing a challenge for good musicians?
Although we have mentioned the relative simplicity of actually ringing bells, there is no doubt that ringing can be a challenge even for competent musicians. This clip of a Japanese university handbell group demonstrates some of the skills. There is a wide range of different techniques, styles and ringing effects which skillful ringers use and these can take some time to learn. Look at this link to see how one person can play many more bells. In addition, there is an increasing range of music for handbell soloists, duets and quartets.