We know a being is alive when we check for pulse. So, it is for music! Without pulse, music can be dull.
Some think that only music with quicker tempos can be exciting. This can’t be farther from the truth! A case in point would be Ravel’s Bolero. Watch it here. Yes, it is pulse that brings music to life. It’s the underlying beats which are strong and weak that add ebb and flow to our sound that makes it so musical, so alive!
We can bring this concept to our ringing ensembles by having them do a couple of things to accent beats. But before doing so, we have to teach our ringers to feel the music with its stronger and weaker beats so that it is innate.
Teaching about meter initially is a lesson worth the time as it will always remain. As you introduce different time signatures, be sure to take the time to introduce the stronger and weaker beats. Having your ringers clap the 4 beats in 4/4 time and give a heavy stomp on beat 1 and a lighter stomp on beat 3 is a great exercise for new musicians. Follow suit with ¾ time with the stomp only on 1.
Before stressing too many musical points in the handchime or handbell rehearsal, practice the score so that the notes are fairly comfortable. At that point, the ringers can focus on musical issues rather than struggle with note reading.
One of the easiest ways to bring out the line in a melody is to have your ringers sing it. Any nonsense syllable like “la” or doo” will be fine if they are unfamiliar with the text. Your ringers will naturally accent the beats that are important as they sing and it is important that they feel it with their entire body, especially their arms. The arm motion is the breath support for the chime or bell and will help the melody to be more lyrical. Encourage the ringers to move in some as they sing stressing the stronger beats.
Pulse is probably more important in the harmonic accompaniment as it carries the melody. Sometimes, it may be harder to feel. When rehearsing, separate the melody from the harmony and have those ringing harmony clap when their notes ring, stressing stronger and weaker beats. Adding a stomp of the foot on the strongest beat will help as well.
Once your ringers are feeling the pulse in the music, there are few things that they can do to bring out the stronger beats. The obvious one would be a stronger flick of the wrist when ringing. Plane is important as we ring and holding the instrument higher (between the breast and shoulder) for stronger beats and lower (between the waist and breast) for weaker beats.
These are just a few concepts to consider as you teach your ringers that all beats are not created equal!