Introduction - What is Handbell Music?

Introduction - What is Handbell Music?

What is Handbell Music?

Handbell music was originated from the church tower bell music in the United Kingdom over 100 years. It was the instrument that created for the convenience of composing, but later developed into a new form of performing art for its unique performance techniques. A whole set of handbell consists various individual handbells of different pitches and each of them can be seen as a single key on the keyboard. The tintinnabulation sounds of handbell bringing people the joyful of Christmas.

To perform handbell music, it needs performers to cooperate and each of them is equally important. Handbell performance provides its audience, not only the splendid music, but also an opportunity to witness the breathtaking cooperation between the ringers. Although there is a team standing on the stage, they always perform as they are playing one piece of instrument. No soloists can enjoy such a sense of satisfaction that gained from the group music playing.

Thus, handbell training should not focus only on individual performing techniques, building team spirit is another crucial element. Each ringer should recognize the role of their bell in the music they played. An excellent performance is achieved by the coordination of every individual performer, with their eyes, brains, hands and ears. As in learning other instruments, learning handbell can help to enhance people’s accomplishment, while building their patience, improving concentration, and the willingness to listen. Such characteristics are invaluable for preparing children for further development.

Handbell History in Hong Kong

The development of Handbell in Hong Kong can be traced back to an American Southern Baptist missionary, Mr. Ralph Yoars. Appointed by the International Missionary organization, he began to do music education and publicity work in Hong Kong as the assistant professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Early 1970s, Mr. Yoars, brought the first set of three octave handbell to the university for the use of music teaching and extra-curricular activities. It can be said that the development of handbell in Hong Kong started from the handbell choir at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Besides the handbell choirs in the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Institution of Education, there are independent handbell performing teams in Hong Kong, for example, Gloves Handbell. In Hong Kong, with the government’s promotion of quality education, in recent years, many primary and secondary schools established their own handbell team with the funding from the Education Bureau. On the other hand, the Hong Kong Handbell Academy has been actively promoting the local development of the instruments since its establishment. We witness the success of new handbell teams, and growing number of various handbell, handchime and belleplate teams organized by schools and churches. In 2006, the Academy organized the first Hong Kong Handbell Festival and School Handbell Competition. Through exchange and study, the performance level of Hong Kong ringers has been improved to a new high.

Handbell is a special percussion instrument that needs cooperative performance by team members. It is an art form that demands a high level of coordination. The instrument family of handbell includes handbell, handchime, belleplate and colorbell. Among such, handbell enjoys the longest history, while others are new forms of instruments that developed from the handbell.


Handbell (2-7½ octaves)

The range of handbell can reach to 7½ octaves and its sound is clear and melodious. There are many handbell performance techniques and different techniques bring out distinctive sounds, creating layers of the music. Ring, pluck, martellato, thumb damp and shake are all major playing techniques. Handbell can be played alone, and they can also be played with other instruments such as violin, flute, organ, brass quintet or even with an orchestra. Besides performing in a team, it can be played by a solo ringer or in a small group of people. Handbell is an instrument that suitable for children over seven years old to learn.


Handchime (2-6 octaves)

Handchime is made of aluminum and normally ranged for 6 octaves. Its arrangement and performing methods are similar to those of the handbell. The sound of handchime is soft and mellow. It can be performed by one person or in an ensemble to enrich the textures and layers of the music. For its light weight, the handchime is suitable for children over 6 years old. Many schools start their handbell training with handchimes.


Belleplate (2-5½ octaves)

Belleplate was invented by Englishman Maurice Davies. The sound and the actions are quite similar to handbell. Made of aluminum, Belleplate is lighter than handbell and is more durable that made them suitable for children over 5 years old to learn. Normally, the range of belleplate is 3 octaves; but in the UK, some belleplates can reach to 5½ octaves. 


The Color Handbell Series - Color Handbells and Color Chimes

These instruments are typically intricately designed, covering a range of 20 musical notes. They feature distinctive colors and exquisite exteriors, with each color corresponding to a specific note and labeled with its name and number. This visual aid is highly beneficial for children as it simplifies the process of learning basic music theory and note recognition by establishing connections between colors and notes. Color Handbells provide a gentle, straightforward, and easily accessible entry point into the world of music. They allow children to explore melodies, rhythms, and coordination within a context that fosters a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment.

Learning Color Handbells is not age-restricted, as they are suitable for children aged three to six. This makes them particularly well-suited for early childhood education, nurturing children's curiosity for music and serving as an excellent starting point for their musical journey.