A set of handbells is an unusual musical instrument, suitable for children of all ages and in various developmental stages. Handbells are bells designed to be rung by hand and are generally played in tuned sets. An experienced handbell choir, or handbell ensemble, rings recognizable music with melodies and harmony. Unlike an orchestra or choir in which each musician is responsible for one line of the texture, a bell ensemble acts as one instrument, with each musician responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.
Please take a look at this beautiful clip: Bach’s “Little” Fugue in g minor.
Educational handbells can be found in sets of eight bells. Each bell is of a different colour, which helps distinguish between the same size and shape bells. The eight bells form one octave, for example a diatonic C major scale with the notes: C D E F G A B C.
Learning to Play the Handbells
Playing the handbells is a primary musical experience. It is highly attractive, as it combines simplicity and challenges at the same time. It is very relaxing, as no special movements have to be learned, and very satisfying, as the simple task is easy to attend.
- Playing the handbells supports auditory skills development such as sound awareness and pitch perception.
- Playing the handbells stimulates the brain and builds up memory, including musical memory as demonstrated in this clip.
- Playing the handbells enhances gross coordination skills development.
- Playing the handbells significantly improves communication skills.
How to Play and What to Say?
From the age of three, children can start to get familiar with the handbells by playing simple, enjoyable games:
- Display any two handbells on the floor, ask your child to choose one and take the other one yourself.
- Listen to your child playing without saying or suggesting anything. When he/she is ready, start to imitate his/her playing. Imitate the hand gestures, rhythm patterns and pauses.
- When the child suggests swapping handbells, happily accept the initiative. If he or she doesn’t – suggest it yourself and repeat No. 2.
- Now it is your turn to initiate. Play in various ways and see if your young partner is joining in by imitating you.
- Play & Say the simple rhymes, such as the one below.
Tommy, Tommy! (change to your child’s name) by Orly Zalel
Hey! Hey! Hey!
Have a go and play!
When Saying the Rhymes:
- Play the handbell in an up-down gesture, at a moderate pace. At the end of the rhymes, put the handbells on the floor and listen to the silence. You don’t have to explain anything to the children. They will follow your actions and will take initiative when they are ready.
- Repeat the Say & Play – but this time play the handbell in a side-to-side gesture, at a different pace and when finishing, rest the handbell with the handle upright.
- While the handbells are resting on the floor, say the rhymes and keep strong eye contact with your child. When you have finished, play the handbell freely and creatively. My suggestion is to repeat each game three times in a row and at the same time to observe the children’s participation. It is extremely surprising to find how creative and knowledgeable they are.
What to be Aware of?
- Be aware of the time, as the ultimate length of this activity is 10-12 minutes.
- Keep the handbells out of reach of 3-5 years old children, because it is very easy to touch the bell-clapper and therefore damage the bell.
- Play in a tidy corner in a quiet room (without music in the background) where your child and you can sit closely together and listen to the sounds.
Finally, playing the handbells is incredibly playful! Join your children and simply enjoy yourself.