Start a Team

WARNING - Handbell ringing can become seriously addictive!

If you have played with a team for a while you may be in a position to start your own group. Membership of a team can range from small family groups to the biggest teams with sixteen or more ringers, spanning the whole age range - you are never too young or old to join in!

A wide repertoire of music is available including both classical and popular pieces, themes from musicals, films and shows, as well as original pieces written especially for handbells.

Types of Ringing There are two basic types of ringing, and you will need to decide early on which style your team will adopt (although it’s always good to be able to do either!).

  • Off-table. This is the traditional English way of ringing. The bells are arranged (laid flat) on a table, which is usually covered with a layer of foam and a cloth. They are picked up, rung and replaced on the table. A ringer may have anything from 2 to 22 bells in front of him, which he just picks up and plays when they are needed. The foam damps the sound of the bells as they are put down. This method tends to be used by teams with larger sets of bells.
  • In hand or Off-shoulder.  Used widely in the USA and Japan but also popular in the UK, each ringer has two bells, one in each hand, and plays each bell when required. This obviously has limitations, as the number of bells that can be played depends very much on the number of players. It is therefore used mainly by teams with smaller sets of bells (a full set of 61 bells would take an enormous number of people) not to mention the fact that the bass bells are rather heavy to ring in hand. It is quite a useful method to use when teaching a team of children to ring however, as they only have to remember the two bells that they hold.

Equipment you will need

For off-table ringing:

Tables: An obviously essential. You can use your own dining room or kitchen table to begin with but you will probably find that you soon get to the stage of wanting more space. A paste table is cheap and folds up compactly, although if used for heavy bells or leaned upon by ringers, tends to dip in the middle at the hinges. Adaptations to overcome this by fitting a central leg to the table are possible, as is the building up of the sides of the table to contain the foam. A problem often encountered is the cry of “The leg has fallen off” just when you want to start ringing. Many people now use Go-Pak or similar folding aluminium tables, which are light but strong. Purpose built bell tables are available in the USA but seldom seen here.

Foam: Foam is expensive; 4” depth is probably ideal but bulky to store. Thinner foam is not adequate for the larger bells but can be rolled for easier storage. Some teams compromise by using thinner foam for the ‘treble’ bell table, and thicker foam for the ‘bass’ table.  To begin with you could use a thick padding of blankets, sleeping bags or the cushions from a three piece suite! Whichever you choose, and especially when you buy foam, do make sure that it is fire retardant as this will be a requirement of most buildings when you ring out.

Whatever method you choose, you'll need bells, chimes or Belleplates:

Bells: English handbells made in the traditional way with leather handles and fittings are available in in the UK from Bells of Whitechapel or John Taylor. These are the most expensive option; slightly cheaper, with plastic handles and fittings are American bells made by Malmark (available via Bells of Whitechapel) or Schulmerich. If ordering direct from America do be aware that UK import taxes will be levied on any equipment purchased.

Handchimes: These are also manufactured by Malmark (available via Bells of Whitechapel) and Schulmerich; also by Suzuki and Percussion Plus.

Belleplates: Designed in the UK and sold by Belleplates Ltd.

You may be able to buy second hand equipment - current sales opportunities.

And, of course, you will need lots of Music for Handbells


Below: Handchimes being played at Christmas, probably in the 1970s