Hand Bell Choir Information and Tips

An article discussing what hand bell choirs are, how to get started playing in a bell choir, how much musical experience it takes to play in a bell choir. Also a clip of a wonderful bell choir group.

Nearly everyone likes to hear bell choir music. If listening to a recording, some may not know exactly what they are hearing in this day of electronic music. It is a very pleasant and reassuring sound to hear a bell choir.

I began playing in bell choirs about 10 years ago. I attended a new church that had several bell choirs – adult, youth, and children’s choirs. I really wanted to know what it was like to play in a bell choir.

It’s really best if you already have at least some rudimentary musical training, so that you can read either bass or treble clef and have knowledge of the note values such has whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. Experience playing in a concert band or orchestra is very helpful or experience playing the piano.

Typically, in a beginning to intermediate bell choir, you’ll only be assigned to play two to four notes. Your job is watch for those notes when they occur in the music and play at the right time. One choir that I played in encouraged the members to place the sheets of music in plastic sleeves. They would then use a black, red, or blue permanent marking pen to circle the notes they were to play. For example, if they were going to be responsible for F5 (bottom space on the treble clef) and G5 (second line on the treble clef), they would circle every F in blue marker and every G with a red marker. If you are a fairly good music reader, you can get along fine without these special marking techniques.

The bigger bells require a fair amount of arm strength and you definitely need strong wrists. The mid range bells are fairly easy to work with, both from size and the amount of playing time. To play the very small bells, the player needs to be above average in note reading skill because much of the melody is in that bell range and is written quite high above the treble staff. Often, the players of these small bells will play “two-in-hand” – holding two bells in each hand in order to cover all their assigned notes with the least amount of exchanging one bell for another.

If you’ve always wanted to try playing in a bell choir, find a local church that has bell choirs and go talk to the director. See if they have an opening that would fit your previous musical experience.

For those who are not familiar with this type of music, here is a link to a video I found recently. These players are obviously very accomplished and they are playing from memory. Playing from memory is not often seen in bell choirs. These players are also extremely adept at exchanging bells (laying one down and picking up another) so they are each playing six to eight bells. The group is HeavenSound Bell Choir from Houston TX.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExOJZT8CyCY

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