Frequently Asked Questions

Handbell Ringing Techniques

Table of Contents

Warm Up Exercises Banging the Buckets! (Bass Bell Techniques)
Where I can learn about Techniques? Four-in-hand/Shelley Ringing
What is Weaving? Techniques for Handchimes.

Warm-up Exercises.

  Provided by Hank Grilk ( on handbell-l    Date: Tue, 28 Jan 1997

Try these warm-up exercises before each rehearsal.

1.)  Have your choir face at an angle - not straight forward, not to the side - you'll see why.

2.)  Warm up from head to toe, ie., from top down - start off with head movements.  First chin down on chest, then slowly tilt your head back until you're looking at the ceiling - then slowly (everything is done "slowly", so I won't repeat "slowly" anymore) back until your chin is on your chest again.  Do 3 or 4 times.  Then head left, straight up, right, and back 3-4 times  Finally circles - start with chin-on-chest, rotate slowly (there's that word again) CW, then CCW, 2-3 times.  Do NOT do the head circles first - always do front-back & side-to-side first.

3.)  Shoulders & arms.  start off with shoulder circles - first rotate forward one circle, then backward one circle - 3-4 cycles.  Next the arms.  these are very important exercises.  they work the arms, chest, and back - all the muscles used for bell ringing.  Start off with arm extended straight out to your sides, hands out straight (in line with arms), palms down.  Then rotate your hands down so that your fingers are pointing toward the floor (if you're doing it right, you'll feel  stretching on the top of your arms).  Holding this position, and keeping your elbows locked, rotate your arms forward in a small circle (about 1 foor diameter) 8 circles then back 8 circles.  Without lowering your arms, raise your hands up so that your fingers are pointing at the ceiling (again, if you're doing it right, you'll feel stretching under your arms).  Again 8 circles forward and 8 circles back.  DON'T PUT YOU'RE ARMS DOWN!  We're not done yet!  Next, rotate your palms forward and swing your arms forward about 1 foot 8 times like you're flying.then rotate your palms backward and swing your arms backward 8 times like you're swimming.  KEEP THOSE ARMS UP!  Almost done.  hang in there.  Finally, do the following sequence 8 times:  [a] Clap
your hands  [b] Pull you're hands back to your armpits in a fist  [c] Clap you're hands again  [d]  Clap you're hands behind your back (!)  [e} Go back to [a] and repeat.

4.)  Waist (min-range!).Hands on hips, legs spread about 2 feet, rotate upper body as far as you can to the right then back to the left in an 8-count sequence:  [1] right,[2] hold, [3] front, [4] hold, [5] left, [6] hold, [7] front, [8] hold, repeat.  Do 8 times.

5.)  Legs.Hands still on hips, legs still spread about 2 feet, bend your knees (semi-squat, not all the way down, keep your back straight), and back up.  8 times.

6.)  Stand at attention - the Drum & Bugle Corp. way - right heal into left instep (it's easier to keep balance) - hands at your sides.  Slowly (sorry) up on your toes and raise your hands high over your head - stretch for the sky - then back down.  Very deliberately!  Half way up on toes, arms should be horizontal.  Do to a slow 8 count up and 8 count down 3-4 times.

7.)  Finally, SHAKE ALL OVER and loosen up.

If you do these exercises you'll find it relieves stress, puts everyone in the mood for a good rehearsal, and prevents injury, muscle strains, & cramps.  It also helps posture and technique.  And it motivates everyone to work together as a team.  Before a concert it takes people's minds off their day-to-day problems, relaxes them, eliminates pre-concert nervousness, and sets a great atmosphere.  Don't tolerate anyone sloughing it off!

Try it you'll like it.

Hank Grilk,  Handbell Choir Director,  Highland Bells Highland Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, PA

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Where may I learn about handbell techniques?

The best WAY to learn handbell techniques is "hands-on," with an experienced bell ringer/director demonstrating and explaining the accepted method or by attending a workshop, Festival or Seminar where multiple classes are taught. AGEHR, Inc. offers these events on the community, state, Area, Regional and National levels.  Some publishers, distributors, and dealers also offer workshops.

Another way is to contact a director in your community  for private mentoring.  Most directors are willing to spend some time with beginning directors.  The "student" tends to progress rapidly because of the one-on-one attention and the specific questioning, rather than a fixed curriculum.

For printed publications, AGEHR, Inc. has worked with Composers, Arrangers, Editors, Engravers, Performers, Soloists and Ensemble people, and Publishers of handbell literature to codify handbell techniques.  The Sixth Notation Conference, covering Handbell Notation, the Difficulty Level system, and Solo and Ensemble Notaion, was held in July of 1999 in San Diego.  The result was an updated  brochure entitled Handbell Notation.  A copy of this brochure was mailed to each member of AGEHR, Inc.

Copies of this Handbell Notation/Difficulty Level/Solo Notation brochure are available from the AGEHR National Office, 1055 East Centerville Station Road, Dayton, OH 45459-5503, or   or  by calling  1-800-878-5459.  The cost is approximately $3.00, plus shipping and handling.

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What Is Weaving?

Weaving is a method of ringing
multiple bells without having more then one bell in each hand at a time. This means it can be used on very large bells that you can't (easily) shelly or four-in-hand. All you do is alternate hands. It's that simple, almost. So if you have to ring C D E F G all in a row, you would ring C in your left hand, D in your right, E L, F R, G L. Also, instead of damping the bells on your shoulder, you damp them on the table. So the previous sequence is like this:

1. Pick up C in your L hand, D in your R hand
2. Ring C
3. Table damp C (L hand) as you ring D (R hand)
4. Pick up E with your L hand (the one that used to hold the C)
5. Table damp D (R hand) as you ring E (L hand)
6. Pick up F with your right hand
7. Table damp E (L hand) as you ring F (R hand)
8. Pick up G with your left hand
9. Shoulder or table damp (depending on what is next) F (R hand) as you ring G (L hand)

Many people do this technique naturally without ever knowing what it is called, and there are a number of differences between what we call "weaving" and what we call simply playing multiple bells off the table.

The Rules of Weaving:
(Kemp's version, Your Mileage May Vary)
1. Always alternate hands LRLRLR etc...
2. Don't pass bells from one hand to the other unless it is ABSOLUTELY necessary.
3. Don't shoulder damp unless you have plenty of time....
4. which case you should shoulder damp, then put the bell down on the table.
5. NEVER EVER EVER cross your arms, instead you should...
6. ...move your feet and/or torso back and forth to get to the bells you need to pick up. This back and forth motion is why it is called "weaving."
7. Try to pick each bell all the way up to vertical before ringing it; don't ring it horizontally only a few inches off the table.
8. Don't look confused. Ring with confidence and control.
9. Don't be scared to really MOVE quickly back and forth.

I hope this made some sense instead of just being a jumble of numbers and complicated steps. It gets a lot easier if you see someone doing it. Weaving forms the basis of most solo and ensemble ringing, and I consider it to be fundamental to advanced choir ringing as well. I usually go through the technique in detail with my bass ringing classes. It works great with any number of bells from 3 to infinity, well, in theory. So, to learn/practice it, start with 3 bells, say C D E, and ring them all in a row following the rules. Then, do the same thing except start with the other hand. Then try it going down. Then add another bell and do 4 in a row, up, down, starting with L hand, starting with R hand. Then add another... Pretty soon you'll be
weaving all over the table and the carpet in your rehearsal room will have ruts worn into it.

Kemp Brinson

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Banging the Buckets!

Doug Benton, who has been somewhat recognized for many years as an expert in ringing and teaching Bass Bell Techniques writes the following information.  Appearing in parentheses are comments other have made concerning this technique.

Bass bells: The "Statue of Liberty Ring" is not a new technique. In fact, I (Doug Benton) learned this from Mark Sherwood, Ed Duncan's bass ringer in the Wesley Bell Ringers from Salt Lake City, UT at the Colorado Women's College Dir. Sem. in
1981(?). This is the technique he used on the G2 (they got the first one Malmark sold). I have taught this technique since I first began teaching Bass Bell Techniques in Orono, ME in1986.

Two points: Pick-up, ring

PICK-UP:  The biggest stress in bass ringing is picking up bass bells. To reduce stress, push the handle into the pad with the fleshy part of the palm. At the same time, pull the bell upright on its handle (the handle becomes a pivot point), keep the handle pushed into the pad so the bell finally rests on its handle upright sunk into the pad. Then, it is very easy to lift the bell straight up into ringing position.  Comparing this to "normal" raising the bell, one can feel a stark difference.

RING:  The most effective way to ring for power is to, quoting Mark Sherwood, "stick the bell in the air and the bell rings itself". By raising the bell with the casting slightly tilted back, almost straight into the air, the inertia of the bell - and clapper -  are in motion. Stopping the bell in the "Statue of Liberty" position, for lack of a better description, allows the clapper through inertia to continue striking the casting. Raising the bell somewhat overhead also keeps the weight of the bell *much* closer
to the center of gravity of the body, especially when compared to ringing the bell perpendicular to the body - "normal" ring. This technique, when used *all* the time, can be somewhat obnoxious. However, for maximum amount of power with one hand, this is the best way to ring.

For a "normal" ring, with control, I recommend moving the bell about six inches out and away from the body (in a motion parallel with the floor) with the bell slightly tilted back towards the body, so the clapper rests against the back side of the casting, then stopping allowing the clapper through inertia to continue striking the forward side of the casting.

The concept with bass bells - in fact, all bells, is to not *ring* the bells, but to *allow* the bells to ring themselves: "Let the bell ring itself!" As in all ringing, the wrist should *never* be used to initiate the ring, but should be kept loose and relaxed throughout the ring. The wrist will flex because the inertia of the bell stopping and clapper striking will cause the wrist to flex. But, the wrist should *never* be used to make the bell ring. This is a whole different issue, but is necessary to understand
as this concept is key to overall safe ringing techniques.


There's a "new" technique we saw at the Dayton Director Seminar for bass bell
ringing. It's more like the Statue of Liberty, where the bell is popped into
the air, and when you pull it back, the bell rings itself. This is so much
more effective than throwing the bell forward....away from your body and from
the clapper (have you ever considered that the clapper has to catch up to the
bell when you ring down and out?). Plus this "up and pop" technique
eliminates the cantilevering pressure that causes the arm stress.
A secret to lifting them is to push the handle down and kinda scoop it
up, getting you hand under the bell quickly then lifting it up vertically.
Again, this eliminates the stress on the forearm from too much weight being
cantilevered out, away from the body. Think "center of gravity!"
Doug Benton, if you're out there...give us your best cheerleading for
this area!!

I always think of how tower bells work. They spin around a fulcrum, or the
bell's center of gravity. The rope on a wheel makes it spin. The difference
with handbells is you have to get the bell high enough vertically in the air
so it can spin around its center of gravity, or it's fulcrum. There are two
seperate actions going on a vertical picking up of the bell, and a spinning
of the bell around its center of gravity.

Keep in mind, this all happens in less than a second, but with the second
octave bells, I tend to pick them up handle first letting the metal sort of
hang down. This keeps my wrist straighter and keeps me from having to lift
it vertically AND spin it at the same time.

If, when you are picking the bell up, your elbow is not moving closer to the
bell (is isolated) you are putting almost all the strain on your forearm and
wrist. If you are moving your elbow up and toward a point out over the bell
as you pick the handle up, you are lifting it vertically first, distributing
the strain over your biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, and stomach.

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Four-in-hand/Shelley Ringing

Christine D. Anderson

(Many thanks to Christine for sharing this information)

TWO-IN-HAND (FOUR-IN-HAND) ~ Two bells held in one hand, clappers moving in a perpendicular plane so the bells may ring independently. Method #1: primary bell (on top) is placed onto secondary bell, handle loop on top of flat handle. With 2 fingers between the handles raise bells to normal ringing position. Primary bell rings straight forward, with a “shake someone’s hand” motion. Secondary bell rings as though you are knocking on a door. Primary bell may be damped easily on the shoulder; secondary bell damps on foam pad or body. Method #2, Interlocked handles: Right hand (left hand is mirror image) -turn higher bell a quarter turn toward lower bell and insert handle (loop showing) through the lower bell’s handle (flat side up). The “skinny” part of the handle is between 3rd and 4th fingers. With 2 fingers between handles, raise to ringing position. Higher bell rings straight forward, as though there was no other bell in hand. Without moving hand, lower bell rings with an inward flip of the wrist. Damp lower bell at shoulder or with thumb; damp higher bell with index finger, at waist, or on table.

Though it’s possible to ring these bells simultaneously, the shelley technique is more successful.

SIX-IN-HAND ~ (right hand; left hand is mirror image) Insert the handle of highest bell into the handle of lowest bell, and turn upright, forming an “interlocked” two-in-hand configuration. Turn middle bell to the left, insert handle, loop side up, through other 2 handles. Place index finger between lowest and middle bell, 3rd and 4th fingers  between middle and highest bell, and rest pinky along the metal block of the highest bell, rather than curling pinky around the handle. Lower 2 bells ring exactly like the “interlocked” 2-in-hand method. To ring the highest bell alone, tip wrist so lowest bell is facing the floor, tip wrist back, and ring with a gentle tapping motion. Outer 2 bells will ring together, as a shelley, with hand in a “knock on a door” position.

TRAVELING 2-IN-HAND ~ Primary bell “travels” from one secondary bell to another.
SHELLEY ~ Two bells held in one hand, clappers facing the same direction, flat handle against flat handle. This technique is most successful for bells needing to be rung simultaneously. The larger casting is generally the primary (top) bell.

SHELLEY PLUS ~ The addition of a second bell to one already in hand, either by picking up from the table or by passing a bell from the other hand, without damping either bell.

SHELLEY MINUS ~ Ringing shelley bells together, the releasing the secondary bell to the other hand or to the table.

ALTERNATE SHELLEY ~ Bells held in shelley position, but ringing separately by changing wrist motion. Primary bell rings upright, with its clapper facing the ceiling (secondary bell’s clapper faces straight out, parallel to the floor); ring with a crisp inward flip of the wrist. Secondary bell rings with wrist tilted so primary bell’s clapper faces the floor; ring with gentle tapping motion.

PRIMARY BELL ~ The handbell held between thumb and index finger, the “top” bell; SECONDARY BELL ~ the handbell held under the primary bell.

KNUCKLE GRIP ~ Alternative grip to holding 2 bells with fingers completely around both handles. Holding the primary bell in hand, pick up the secondary bell’s handle (near the screws) between the knuckles of index and third fingers, touching fingernails with your thumb on the inside of the secondary bell’s handle. Benefits: quicker pick up, more secure hold, more flexibility in ringing, ability to ring larger bells in hand.


Two-in-hand:   G/A   left hand, G over A or G through handle of AB\C
                                   right hand, C over B or C through handle of B

Shelley:   G6//G7 left hand, G6 over G7
   A7\\A6 right hand, A6 over A7

S = shelley   S+ = shelley plus  S- = shelley minus

AS = alternate shelley

Multiple bells-in-hand open up new possibilities for faster, smoother ringing and for dealing with fast bell changes. It’s important to damp as closely to note values as possible, legato, not LV. Each technique has its own benefits and drawbacks. It’s a good idea to become familiar with each method, finding the best one for each particular musical situation.

For visual instruction, please see the multiple bell links on this web site:     For further help, please contact: -

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Revised: January 14, 2000.