Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Begin ... ?

What do I need to begin a handbell/handchime group? Sample Contracts
Open Ringing Session
How do I begin a Church group? Where do I learn about handbell techniques?
How do I begin a Community group? How do I select a name for my group?
How do I begin a School group?
How do I begin a Children's Group?
How do I select a uniform dress/costume for my group?
Recruiting members for School groups. How do I form a non-profit organization?
How Young to Begin Children?

What do I need to begin a handbell group?

HANDBELLS  --  Of course, you will need handbells or handchimes.  We would recommend no less than three octaves if at all possible and no less than two octaves when cost is an extreme consideration.  While individual bells or octaves may be added later, it is best to set your goals high and purchase as many bells possible.  One consideration is the repertoire that is available for two octaves and less of handbells and the limitations this places on the group.

Handbells will be the most expensive investment in beginning a group.  Handchimes are a possible substitute for handbells, particularly in educational institutions, but should not be considered as "taking the place" of handbells, since the tone and the usage are so different.  Many groups that begin with handchimes find that they are a learning tool but the group eventually purchases handbells.

In the reverse scenario, those beginning with handbells often find the need to purchase handchimes in order to have the contrast of color.

TABLES  --  Most groups ring handbells using tables.  The minimum width should be 30 inches.  Less will not allow risers and notebooks with the layout of the handbells.

Some groups purchase specially made handbell tables from the manufacturers and/or suppliers.  These are usually rectangular (or trapesoidal) 30 X 36 inches , 30-32 inches high (some with adjustable legs), of various weights.  Since breakdown, transporting and set up are frequent, weight and size are important factors.

There are a significant number of styles and range of costs.  Before purchasing, we suggest you compare.  One good way is to attend a handbell festival and talk with several directors/ringers.  Many times, manufacturers and suppliers have display where you can make comparisons.

Many church groups use banquet tables since they are already available.  These tables normally measure 48, 60, 72, or 86 inches long by 30 inches wide.

Because of the cost, and because of utilitarian requirements, some groups custom build their tables.  Adjustable leg sets are available, and a simple 3/4" or 1" plywood top is all that is necessary to make a table.  Special requirements, such as racking the larger bass bells, may dictate custom designs.

PADS  --  Foam padding is a necessity for the handbell table.  Manufacturers and suppliers have a variety of thickness, from 2" to 4" in a range of density, from soft to very firm.

Discussions with directors, manufacturers and suppliers will assist you in determining what thickness and density you need.   While this is personal taste to some degree, the thickness and the density contribute to control of the bells on the table and to affecting the sound of the bell when certain techniques are used, such as plucking, martellato, and damping.  Since the foam lasts for a long time, it is best to do your experimentation before you purchase the foam.

COVER CLOTHS  --  We recommend at least two sets of cover cloths: one for rehearsal and one for performance.  If possible, they should be made of the same material in order that the ringers can become accustomed to the sound, look and texture of the covers.  Using performance covers for rehearsal will greatly hasten the demise and require replacement.

Colors are personal and may depend upon the image and message of your group.  Church groups may wish to match or contrast with the bell choir robes.   The Bronze bells (and aluminum) show well on black cover cloths, but also show well on Navy Blue and Cranberry/Maroon.  Lighter colors seem to show soil.

Corduroy or a heavy brushed denim, some durable fabric with short nap, seem to be preferred.   Too hard a surface will produce a "Zing" while longer naps will show wear.

MUSIC RISERS  --  Suppliers give you a choice of music risers, from clear, acrylic to formed, black metal.  The purpose of risers is to elevate the music closer to eye level so the ringers may look ahead at their music and still have the director in the line of sight.

Music risers are simple to construct from a 1 X 12" solid board or plywood.   Cutting the board 10" from each end at a 90 degree angle on a 35 degree miter, reverse the boards and attach with piano hinge.  You may put a flange on the front and back to keep the music from slipping off.

For a list of HIC members who supply music risers, contact

MUSIC FOLDERS  --  Three-ring break-back folders (sometimes called Presentation Folders) may be available at your local office supply house, but they are certainly available through many handbell suppliers.  see above URL for HIC members.

These folders have a break across the front and back that allows the folder to stand alone.  Many of the folders have an adjustment that will allow the folder to be more upright or more slanted.

Having three rings requires holes in the music.  This also allows quick insertion, rearrangement or removal of music.  (We recommend 3/8" holes rather than 1/4" if possible for freer turns and less stress on the holes).

Dividers provide easy access to sections or different programs.

STICKY TABS  --  Use sticky tabs for a number of purposes including:  page turns (put one on both sides), reminders of bell changes, write out a measure of music on a bad turn, title of selection for "easy find."

MALLETS  --  Today's handbell music often calls for the use of mallets.  Years ago, regular percussion (bass drum or timpani) mallets were the only ones available.  Today, manufacturers and suppliers have given us a matched set of mallets according to the size of the bell and in some cases the tone we desire.

Experimentation is a must when purchasing mallets.  Side by side comparison is best if possible.  The size and density of the mallet has a definite relationship to the tone each bell will produce, as well as the size of the bell to which it is applied.  Talking with other directors may be helpful, but most likely their opinion will be biased to the mallets they use.

CAUTION:  Mallets that are too hard, strokes that are overzealous, and striking the bell in the waist may result in a broken handbell.  The waist is the thinnest part of the casting.   When using a mallet on a handbell, the stroke should land at the approximate place where the clapper strikes the bell.  This has been determined to the the optimum spot at the factory.

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How do I begin a church group ?

Assuming you already have a set of handbells or handchimes, the necessary accessories, such as tables, pads, cover cloths, gloves, music risers, folding music notebooks, music, mallets, and other possible accessories, we also assume that you have already talked to "the powers that Be."  This might begin with the Minister of the Church, the principal of the school, a fellow bell group director or other local musicians (in the case of a community group) about the possibility of beginning a group.  Without the support, your task is much more difficult.

It may be necessary to meet with committees, or form one, in order to get started..  You will need their help with a little money to initiate the group, in making surveys about the general interest and then in enlisting the ringers and support groups.  Certainly, publicity is a vital element in all these steps.

The next step is to determine and secure a place to rehearse (then to perform).

Bare requirements of space depends upon the number of tables and size of the group.  There must be room on all sides of the tables for passage of people and bell cases, ringers standing behind the tables, tall stools for the ringers, place for the director, stand and stool, and an adequate volume of space between the tables and the facing wall.  This is necessary so the initial sound of the bell has some room to expand.

A higher ceiling is preferred.  Carpeted floor, draped windows and/or walls, acoustical ceiling, and other  things that would keep the reverberation down would be helpful.  Sample Carpet strips on which the ringers can stand will help reduce fatigue at long rehearsals, especially on concrete, tile, or wooden floors.

Before you begin, it would be well to promote a handbell concert through your church, schools and community.  This may be a local group or you may wish to invite a recognized Concert/Community/Professional group since the success of your project may depend upon the success of the concert.  While this would entail more work in setting up the concert, it may help create more interest and the lasting results.

Set the date and time and place of the initial rehearsal.  Give enough lead time in your publicity so those interested will have time to arrange their personal schedules.  Make exceptions for those who cannot be present at that time but who indicate interest in learning about bells and possibly being a part of the program.  Everyone is welcomed.  This is not a tryout.  It is an introduction to Handbells.  Depending upon the response, you may want to have an audition or tryout later.

Promotion is the key to beginning a new group.  You must select a date for an initial rehearsal at which you will have someone to lead a workshop, possibly with some others to assist. Weekly mailout reminders, a note in the announcement section of the order of worship, advertisements, flyers about the community will keep the date and event in front of the people, and interest will build.

Make a music survey and use some of the early results in your publicity.  "Did you know we have three people who play trombone and another who plays clarinet?  These are prime candidates for our new Handbell Choir."    The Youth and Adult vocal choirs are also good sources of prospects.

 Contact anyone who indicates an interest in ringing handbells and who has shown any interest in music.

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Young Ringers and commitment

Linda Ashley posted this "contract" on Handbell-L and has given permission for us to include it on this web site.  She wrote:

I have a young ringers choir and this is the agreement that I hand out at the beginning of the year and have them and their parents sign and return to me. I also keep an attendance poster that gets Crayola Stamper marks on rehearsal nights and cool stickers for the Sundays that they are there. I recognize those with perfect attendance at the end of the year. I get pretty good results with this way of doing things. Feel free to use this form or your own modified version.

Youth Ringer/Parent Agreement:

My child wishes to belong to the Ding-A-Lings, Immanuel’s Youth Bell Choir. We realize that this is an important commitment and promise to be  faithful bell ringers/parents. We will be dependable for the following services  and rehearsals and if there is the occasion that we will be absent, we will  phone the director and let them know in advance (as much as possible) of the  absence. This is in fairness to all of the other ringers and the director.

_____ Wednesday night rehearsals (required in order to play anytime)
_____ 8:15 service - 3rd Sunday of each month
_____ 10:40 service - 1st Sunday of each month
_____ Both services mentioned above
__________________________________ Youth signature
__________________________________ Parent signature

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How do I begin a community group?

In recent years, there has been a return of interest in Community and Professional Handbell groups.  As with nearly all ringers/directors/groups, handbell people are interested in helping others to ring, thus, one of the first places to look for help would be an established community/professional group.  Members are regular posters on Handbell-L and BellTalk.

The only publication for Community/Professional groups of which I am aware at this time is Virtuoso, a newsletter for community and professional handbell groups, published by AGEHR, Inc.  For more information, contact or AGEHR, Inc., att: Emily Carpenter/Virtuoso, 1055 E. Centerville Station Road, Dayton, OH  45459.

Plans for the future include a "how to do" packet which would include generic By Laws, contracts, publicity suggestions, procedures for auditions, stumbling blocks to incorporation and IRS approval as 501-C not-for-profit recognition, and other helpful information.

One procedure for beginning a community group might be:

At the first rehearsal:

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How do I begin a school group?

From David Ruder, recently retired school handbell person (and former head of CHIME)

I would assume somewhere that you would have a "Basics Page," but a page on getting started in school will begin before that.  It begins with someone who knows something about handbells and/or chimes.  In the school situation it was wise to contact someone, school (best) or church, who can give you pointers on getting started, what you will need, costs, literature, organizing a program, and technical advice.  I did this a number of times for teachers who were getting started, and music educators could pick up a lot of information quickly, as they already had all the musical knowledge.

I would certainly reference the AGEHR publications:  "A Practical Handbook for Handbell Directors" by Valerie Stephenson; "Teaching Young Ringers" by Carolyn Mathis, and "Ringing for the First Time" teacher's edition by McKechnie (Agape).  Tons of good stuff here.

You must usually sell the program before you can get money for it in the budget.  This involves getting visiting groups to drop by from other schools, or some other presentation to those who have the power--administration, parent's groups.  Getting a set on loan--from bell companies or through an area loan program, or paying a bit of a rental fee and borrowing from your church or a friend's church, so that school people can see them at work really helps.  We got three octaves of bells through a foundation grant.

Starting small, maybe with chimes, and letting the program grow.  Using materials--tables, covers, etc. that are already available at school.  Perhaps the chimes or bells will be used at more than one school and in more than one situation so that there is real value in so many playing something that will have a relatively low cost.

Beginning programs usually make use of existing space in the classroom and often aren't even used with performing groups but as a class instrument, in a classroom or with a choir.  A choir often forms out of interested students meeting after school or at noon, or before school.  My program began at noon, had another group before school, and finally became part of the program, meeting in the choir room.  Later after we proved ourselves we grew to having our room and five octaves of bells and chimes and all kinds of materials, but that took ten years.  The ideal is not what you start with, but what you grow into as you become the "premier" attraction of the music program.

If the movers and shakers see the value of the program, they will buy into it and one shouldn't have problem with funds, but you often have to make it a low risk venture to begin with.  Off hours, borrowed materials, etc.

There is a lot more when you think about maintenance and growth of the program, programs, touring, promotion, etc.  but you'll have to get more specific when you want to get into that.

Kearns would add:  It is a good idea to join the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, Inc.  1055 E. Centerville Station Road, NE, Dayton, OH  45459-5503.   More articles in OVERTONES, and more assistance for educational institutions on the way.   Check out the CHIME web site:

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Open ringing session (used with permission)
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2000 07:16:21 -0700
From: "Marcy Hontz"

I posted the info on an open ringing session privately to the first person who asked the question, but now that there seems to be more interest, here it is for whoever wants it.  These are some ideas; you need to adapt to your situation.  I always have non-musicians at my sessions, so that has to be my starting point.

I've done this for many years.  Seems like I'm always trying something different.  Depends on the group and what they seem able to absorb.  It helps to have some idea of how many are coming and whether it will be kids
or adults so I've always had a sign-up sheet.  There may still be some drop-ins but that's okay.  (Depending on how many are coming, you might want to have some members of your choir come part way through the evening so that they can fill in the spots to read some music.)  Don't assume that because people have seen and heard the bells played many, many times that they've noticed anything about how it was done.  We always wear gloves, so I give them gloves to use for the evening when they come.

1. I put all the bells out on the table (even if only a few are coming) so they can see that they are like a huge keyboard.  This is one instrument played by many people.  It's an expensive instrument so we want to be careful not to clang bells together, not to touch them to skin or hair as oils will transfer, etc.

2.  I ask them to notice that there is a logo on one side of the bells and that the logo needs to be visible when the bell is on the table so that the clapper will strike the bell at the correct spot and the bells are adjusted to ring more easily in that direction.  (Our bells have a "scratch" at the strikepoint and I point that out.) Also that each bell has a letter and number designation and it's significance.  Big bells (low numbers = low notes, small bells high numbers = high notes.

3.  I show them how to hold the bell correctly.  And how to ring it correctly.  (This is where the surprises come in.  Most of them have never noticed the ringing stroke and will end up using it like a hammer or just punching it out there.)  I really work on this quite a bit and I teach the whole stroke including damping.  Everyone rings together.  Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes.  Any beginning handbell methods book will have drills in it.

4.  By this time they've probably forgotten to damp, so we do scales and we talk about the importance of ending a note when the next one plays.  Now they have to interact with their neighbor, but it's easy for them to hear
when someone isn't damping properly.

5.  We ring in thirds - 2 people at a time - 4 counts with left, then 4 with right ( if starting from the low end) first person drops off and the next person joins in; then the second person drops off and the next person joins in, etc.  Again, interaction.  Watch the damping

6.  If you're good at chords and the group can sing, you can try some chord accompaniments to simple songs.  (This never seems to work for me but I know lots of other people that are very successful at it.  I find the group stops singing and I'm left out there singing all alone and I'm not that good a singer. )

7.  You can ask them to make note of what notes they have (use only naturals and this is a good time to point out that an A with a # is not the same as an A!) and do some spelling: Put the words on a chalkboard or large chart so you can point to the letters.  (make up more of your own words)

They play each letter separately, then together at your direction - any octave, as long as it's the letter.  This won't always sound great, but they are getting the idea of  playing at certain times, damping, playing together, etc.

8.  Depending on how much time you have - you can go on to reading simple music.  But it takes a while to explain the fact that they only have 2 notes (or 1 if that's how what you decide they can handle) and they need to read somewhat horizontally rather than follow the music up and down.  (Here's where having some of your choir members on hand will help.  Plus, the new people get to meet some people who are already in the program.  Will the new people be joining your current group or are you starting a beginning group?) I've had great success with Jacob's Ladder from Ready to Ring.  Start with the whole note chords because that gets them used to looking ahead to see the next note that they need to play.  Then go on to the actual song.  That was the first song, our choir learned to play 15 years ago and it still works!

There are, no doubt, lots of other things you can do - change ringing, for one,  is always fun.  Sometimes I include that as part of the drills. AND DON'T FORGET THE REFRESHMENTS!

If you don't understand any of the above rambling, you can e-mail me
privately at
Marcy in Scottsdale, AZ

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How do I select a name for my group ?

This totally personal question is difficult to answer.  A search of the archives of "handbell-l" will gather numerous names, as will reading "The 'L'" for a few days.

Generically speaking, you may want the name to include some reference to handbells/handchimes; perhaps the location of your group, such as church, town, university, or state; a musical (particularly a handbell) term; or perhaps a catchy or coined word.

Examples may be found at and

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Sample Contracts

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How do I select costumes or uniform dress ?

Costumes or uniform dress is another personal preference.  Carefully consider the image you wish to convey with your appearance as well as your ringing.  Uniform dress may depend upon the venue in which you will ring.  In a church, robes with cuffed sleeves are appropriate, particularly if members of the bell group also sing in the vocal choir.

For formal concerts, you may wish to wear tuxedos, or white shirts/blouses with black pants/long skirts, with black bow ties for the men.  For less formal events, you may wish to purchase or sew simple vests to complement or contrast with your table covers.

For Festivals or other bell events, all of the above are adequate.  T-shirts are relatively inexpensive and many places will custom design shirts for you.

Numerous costume companies send catalogues of long dresses for women and coat/outfits for men.  Your local Sears, Penny's or other department store may work with you to secure a suitable outfit.  Ordering multiple copies of the same design may help get a better price.

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Recruiting -- The Key to a Successful School Handbell/Chime Program
(Samples and Suggestions)  David Ruder  --

How would you like...?

The appeal of handbells in schools is spreading across the country as music educators and administrators learn of the immense educational value of using chimes and bells to implement their music curriculum and add sparkle to their performance groups. Handbells and chimes are a wonderful value; they can be used by many children (without fear of germ warfare) over and over throughout the day; they can be transported from school to school; they interest both boys and girls in equal numbers; they can be used in the classroom to teach all kinds of music reading and theory; they are great as a supplementary instrument for classroom singing and choirs; they make a beautiful sound and stay in tune; the basic techniques are easily learned, yet there is considerable room for the development of very advanced technique and musicality; and, as most readers know, they can be used to form beautifully sounding performance groups.

Now if you were a parent, administrator, or music educator and read the above list of virtues, wouldn't you jump at the chance to participate? And that is what is happening as workshops, concerts, and other teachers expose the education community to these values. It's up to the music educator/director to keep these wonderful opportunities before those who will be most concerned about the music education of the children.

The Children Factor

"But if you can't sell the children, it ain't going to work." Most bell programs begin from the bottom, that is in the elementary grades. Exposure to the wonders of ringing beautiful music with chimes in the classroom involves the children from the moment they pick up the instrument. As the children progress through the grade levels the constant exposure to chimes and bells will increase their desire to play at a more challenging level, chimes or bells in a performance group, in middle and senior high schools.

The purpose of this article does not cover the acquiring of bells or chimes. Sets of chimes can be acquired by purchase when you are starting a new program. The small cost of several octaves usually fits into the capital outlay budgets of schools. They may also be borrowed from another school, church, or from an AGEHR area which is loaning sets.

Some sample recruiting techniques

Many new programs in public and private schools recruit from their general music classes. Gary Delk in La Habra, CA (public school) teaches the basics using chimes, singing fun songs and learning about rhythms, and how to ring simple songs. His general music class starts out with 45 - 65 students. Wow! He has a great relationship with the counselor who puts large numbers of students into the class, at Gary's request, with the understanding that any who are a problem will be removed. At the end of the first semester Gary has plenty of students for both his handchime and vocal choirs for the next year. By second semester he has 30 -35 handchime students from which to audition for his advance handbell choir. In addition Gary teaches several volunteer gardening classes (techniques, planting, and gives away free plants) during science class time. These classes are held after the Christmas or Spring music concerts where the kids have seen the chimes and bells perform in their school assemblies. In this way Gary gets to know the kids and make his pitch for choir and bells next year. "It works!" he says with great enthusiasm.

Steven Meyer in Hayward, CA (private school)forms introductory bell choirs from 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes. One-third of each grade level rotates through handbells, computers, and the library for 30 minutes each during the week. The better students may audition for the Jr. Advanced group, or the Advanced Bell Choir which is made up of 7th and 8th graders. More than 120 children are involved with the bells each week. Steven's groups attend a school handbell festival each year.

Dian Ruder in Los Altos, CA (private school) introduced chimes and bells to this small school during a special school assembly by giving a solo demonstration and inviting another bell choir to perform. Interested students in the 5th and 6th grades began rehearsals during their lunch hour. When the students were ready, they performed at every opportunity--chapel services, report grade nights, music assemblies, chording for the choir and students sings. The initial interest grew over several years as the Advanced Bell Team (as in Steven's case) got their own uniforms, opportunities to travel outside of school to perform, receive special awards and recognition, to leave class early to rehearse, and the privilege of attending a school handbell festival. Now a 4th grade feeder group is oversubscribed with interested students! Nearly the entire classes of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders play bells or chimes.

Nancy Mielke in Carson City, NV (public school) recently began a new handbell program with a set of loaned bells from Area 12. The school secured its own set of bells by the end of the school year. Nancy introduced bells to her 6th and 7/8 vocal choirs. Initially they utilized two weekdays for the learning of handbell techniques. They used the bells to accompany their vocal performances, and by year's end they were playing basic handbell pieces. Nancy, as do many directors, takes her groups to the feeder schools for performances, and allows the younger children to view the bells up close, and ask questions. Bells are part of all music programs throughout the year. Nancy expects to have a separate bell choir of 15 next year, and two choirs in succeeding years.

Robert Landis in San Francisco (public school) has a number of vocal choirs. Bells are used with each choir and help develop pitch and vocal independence. The better students are allowed to form a separate bell choir and meet in the large hallway outside Bob's classroom several times each week. He gives them special instruction and lessons on his own time, and they rehearse quite a bit on their own while he is busy with the rest of the choir. Hundreds of children have the opportunity to play the bells each week in this program.

This author began his school program (public school) with an old set of discarded bells over 20 years ago. A group of boys from the music and math classes (the math teacher was a musician and helped teach the class) met at lunch time to explore bell ringing. The first performance, though very elementary, created such a hush in the student audience that everyone, most noticeably the principal, was "totally" impressed. The La Entrada Handbell program was launched. Today nearly 60 students participate in four bell choirs, and an additional 100 students play either bells or chimes in the general music and choral classes.

Students are introduced to bells and chimes in music assemblies and during the choir or general music classes. All students (5th - 7th grade) complete a "music survey." Questions regarding student's instrumental and vocal experience are asked, and what music classes they would be interested in the following year. A "music recommendation" is given to each student which suggests, on the basis of the survey and the teacher's knowledge of the student, the musical experience that would be best for that student. This form also includes recommendations for choral and other instrumental groups. This recommendation is given within two weeks of the time when students are to signup for their elective classes for the following year. The students and parents take these recommendations very seriously.

To be in a performing bell choir the student must audition, have parental approval, receive acceptance by the bell director, and agree to the handbell contract regarding rehearsals, performance, dress, and manners. Between 40 and 50 students audition for the entry level choir (6th) each year. Summary of recruiting suggestions in schools:

Beginning Programs

*Interest students in bells/chimes by providing demonstrations by a solo ringer or ensemble. During these demonstrations non-music students are involved in a simple hands on demonstration. Videos and other recordings are also a supplementary option.*Consider demonstrations for parents as well, particularly in private schools
where they may have to pay extra fees for the music classes.*Begin from the bottom in the lower grades. Use chimes. Teach in general music classes and use chimes to implement the curriculum.
*Use bells with your vocal choir to accompany and to start a performing group.*Use surveys and recommendations to give children direction and an acknowledgment of their musical aptitude and suitability for handbells (or other musical outlets).*You may need to begin bells/chimes performance groups outside of the regular classroom hours.

Existing Program

*Perform for feeder schools. Let the children see and hear the choirs, and

*Give yourself lots of publicity. Make it an "in thing" to be part of the choir. Newspaper reports, announcements about your performances, special awards, tours, etc.

*Tour. A small trip to another school, a music festival, or overnight(s) for the advanced group.

*Lots of performances, even a recording. All kids love to perform, and the other students want to be part of the experience (be special, and get out of school, too!). Exposure gets you talked about, and creates a special interest.

*Be special. Uniform, banners, equipment, discipline, auditions to get in, special privileges for the top group such as a party, pizza lunch, awards,

*Plan special events. Attend or host a school festival. Invite special guest directors, choirs, workshop leaders, etc.

*Be sure you schedule your bell classes so that they don't interfere with other music groups.

 *Be kind to your administration and staff regarding pullout schedules. Get their okay and give plenty of notice.

*Work with your counselor or the person responsible for scheduling students. They can make or break your efforts.

Recruiting in Schools Article, August 1995
1784 words, 173 lines, 4 pages
David Ruder
423 Palo Verde Dr.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086-6762
(408) 732-0760

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How do I form a non-profit organization?

Here is a source that gives a good overview and some specific links that will be helpful to you:

Sample bylaws (Joyful Sounds handbell group) can be found at:

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How to Begin a Children's Choir:

Here's a couple of excellent resources:

"Teaching Young Ringers" by Carolyn Mathis  AGEHR publication  R-217
"Ringing for the First Time"  Director's Edition by D. Linda McKechnie,
    Harold Flammer, Inc. HL 5232  $7.95
"Ringing Basics" by Beverly Simpson  Harold Flammer, Inc.  HL 5231  $6.95
"Quick Foundations" by Kirtsy Mitchell from the Busy Ringer Series,  R-218
    AGEHR Pub
"A Practical Handbook for Handbell Directors" by Valerie W. Stephenson  AGEHR Pub

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How Young to Begin Children?

Brian Tervo wrote the following, concerning how early to start children on handchimes or handbells:

Just this year, I started directing a group of children as young as Kindergarten (age 5).  When starting that young, the most important things to remember are to keep it very simple, keep the rehearsals short = (30 minutes recommended, definitely not longer than 45 minutes), and to vary the activities often.  At that age, they have a very short attention span, and keeping them interested in anything for more than 10 minutes is a real challenge.  If you can find rhythm and movement books, or other resources with group games, they work really well.

Regarding the actual ringing -- I start by giving each of them one chime with a colored sticker on it unique to its note.  The music is displayed on a large sheet of paper in the front of the room, and has colored dots corresponding to the dots on the chimes on the correct lines/spaces on a staff.  I point at the notes in rhythm with a conductor's baton and ask them to ring by color.  A fun thing to do when showing them music for the first time is have them ring through it and figure out what the title of the song is (for some, this trick will make them try harder).

After a few weeks, I progressed to writing notes (quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes, rather than just dots) on the staff, and later progressed to notes that are not color coded.  Right now, they are just starting to be able to read the music with me counting aloud rather than having to point at the notes in front of the room.  It's a slow learning process, but if you're patient, and consistent about reinforcing concepts every week, and change things (making them more difficult) gradually, they will pick it up.

I have to admit that this was a bit of a leap of faith for me.  I sort of jumped in with both feet, and have learned a lot by directing this group this year.  I will probably continue to learn about things that do and do not work in the coming years.  One of the benefits of starting them at an earlier age is you get bells (or chimes) in their hands, and you make it a part of their weekly routine, and something they will want to continue as they get older.  If you wait too long, they will become too busy with soccer, baseball, and other activities, and will be less likely to make a commitment to music when they get older.

Response From: Bill Ingram

   There is probably no absolute answer to this... I usually try to start them out in the 3rd grade also.   By then they are reading and counting pretty well and have learned to take instructions.  I have made an exception sometimes when I had a kid who really wanted to ring (usually they had a brother or sister in the group) and I could work them in at an easy spot with one bell, or chime.  I have had a couple of my best ringers start this probably went to their desire more than anything.

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Revised: April 17, 2002