Taking it to the Top with Technique


Ringing technique is everything!  As directors, we spend countless hours in rehearsal.  We are not only there for teaching music skills, mastering a score and readying for a performance.  We may also be creating community, fostering social skills, motivating and ministering. It’s hard to believe that we do this all in an hour or two each week.

For many, the largest portion of our time is dedicated to teaching notes and coaching eye-hand coordination.  However, the underlying component to having our ringing ensemble work as one unit or instrument and achieving the highest musical results is proper ringing technique.

Taking the time in the beginning to introduce and reinforce good technique to ringers will lead to quicker musical results in the end.  “Beginning” may have different meanings depending on your situation – new ringers, new program year or each new rehearsal.

Here are some things to consider and focus upon for your fresh start:

Ringing – The flick of the wrist is just the beginning of the tone. How we move the instrument determines the musicality of the tone.  Where we hold the instrument while we ring it – low or high in the plane – reinforces its identity as melody or harmonic support.

Damping – In music, a rest can be more important than the notes played.  Be sure that your ringers are damping properly so that the note is cleanly damped exactly when it should be.

Arm extension – Before ringing, the arm extension should match the duration of the note so that the instrument may be brought back to the shoulder for damping with the tempo of the music.  For example, in a moderate tempo, a whole note is equivalent to extending the whole arm; a half note is equivalent to extending at the elbow, etc.

Precision ringing – Be sure your ringersbreathe together before playing a chord so that all instruments strike at once.

Learn more about ringing techniques on handchimes here.  Musicality tips may be found here.

With the foundation of good ringing technique, your musical success will be easily built.

Illuminating Music for Epiphany

It’s difficult to think past Christmas right now but, it is time to prepare for the 5+ weeks before Ash Wednesday on February 14th.  January 6th begins the season of Epiphany just 12 days after Christmas.  Themes for the season are the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, the Miracle at Cana and Christ as the Light of the World.  The latter can also be seen as a revelation of Jesus to the world.

When we think Epiphany, we often refer to the Three Kings’ Day.  However, the season has so much more meaning and we can reflect that in the music that we choose for Worship.


We’ve compiled a list of titles that will help bring more meaning to this glorious season.  All of which are available for immediate purchase and digital download from the ChimeWorks website:


What Star Is This with Beams So Bright – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L1  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


A happy, light setting of PUER NOBIS, also subtitled On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry, and That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright, is appropriate for Easter, Advent, or Epiphany. TD, LV, and RT are used.  Learn it now and ring it in April, too!


We Three Kings – arr. Valerie Stephenson

L1  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


This familiar piece has no more rhythmic difficulty than quarter notes, but it offers some unique challenges. With its dynamic changes, shading and shaping the musical line, ringers can work to develop expressive and musical ringing. Techniques include finger damping and swings.


When Morning Gilds the Skies – arr. Karen Roth

L1+  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


This setting of the well-known hymn offers excellent opportunities for expressive, musical ringing. It presents ringers with a chance to experience LVs and sensitive, musical ringing of a lovely arrangement.


What Star Is This That Beams So Bright – arr. Barbara B. Kinyon

L2-   2 Octaves


An easy setting of the tune, PUER NOBIS. May also be used during the Easter season as That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright.


One Star – Cheryl J. Rogers/Derek Hakes

L2   3 – 5 Octaves


Based on a choral anthem by Cheryl Jones Rogers (CGA460), this handbell transcription effectively captures the beauty and mystery of the original lyrics and music. This flexible piece includes an option for the anthem text to be spoken by a narrator, or, if desired, the bell piece may be used to accompany the singing of the anthem by a vocal soloist or choir.


I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves with optional C or Bb instrument


Kathleen Thomerson’s popular hymn tune HOUSTON has been treated simply and delicately with minimal bell changes and techniques, making this a very accessible arrangement.  A short original melody comprises the introduction, interludes, and ending.  In the second stanza, the upper treble bells/chimes are played with mallets, while the hymn tune is played by the lower treble and bass.  The optional C or Bb instrument makes a lovely addition.


Thy Holy Wings – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  3- 5 Octaves


“Thy Holy Wings” is a delicate, flowing arrangement of the Swedish folk tune BRED DINA VIDA VINGER. It opens and closes with an original melody. The piece is appropriate for services of baptism or confirmation or for themes of guidance, healing, and comfort.


I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry – John Ylvisaker/Martha Lynn Thompson

L2  3 – 6 Octaves


The ethereal opening and closing motifs, played on randomly-malleted suspended chimes, suggest the mystery surrounding the beginning and ending of life. The music of the stanzas depicts the various stages of life as described in the hymn text.  Mirroring the opening section, the piece grows softer until the final malleted chord. An optional hymn page for vocal soloist is included. If desired, the hymn text may be read by a narrator, beginning each stanza at the places indicated within the score.


Children of the Heavenly Father – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  3 – 5 Octaves


Now in an expanded version, this short, simple arrangement of the beloved Swedish tune, TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA, is delicate and lovely. Appropriate for baptism, confirmation, or any time a musical focus on children is desired.


We Three Kings – Sondra Tucker

L3  3 – 5 Octaves


This ebullient setting of “We Three Kings” evokes the pilgrimage of the Wise Men through the desert.  Judicious use of thumb-damp keeps the texture light.

Ring It Now and Ring It Later

As you choose music for Advent and Christmas, consider picking a tune that you might also use later in the year making it appropriate for the liturgical season by merely changing the title.  Allowing this freedom, opens up a new resource to you in strengthening your ensemble.

Mastering a piece that is multi-seasonal helps in a number of ways:

  • If you struggle with rehearsal attendance, this will pare down the time spent on learning notes and allow you and your ringers to focus on musicality.
  • Newer ringers may enjoy the opportunity of playing the piece with more confidence the second time leading to a more worshipful experience.
  • This will benefit your music budget. Who doesn’t love stretching the dollar!

Below are suggestions of titles from ChimeWorks.  All of these titles are written for handbells but are specifically recommended because they work well for handchime ensembles, too.  The titles in bold are as they are published under Handchime Ensembles where they are available for immediate purchase and digital download.


Tune:  Puer Nobis

Advent:  On Jordan’s Bank, the Baptist’s Cry

Epiphany:  What Star Is This, With Beams So Bright

Easter:  That Easter Day With Joy Was Bright  (L1)  2 – 3 Octaves  3 – 5 Octaves


Tune:  Noël Nouvelet

Christmas:  Sing We Now of Christmas

Easter:  Now The Green Blade Rises

General:  Variations On A French Carol (L2)  2 Octaves with Percussion


Tune:  Hyfrydol

General:  Meditation on Hyfrydol  (L3)  3 Octaves

Advent:  Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Easter:  Alleluia! Sing To Jesus

General: Love Divine, All Love Excelling


Tune:  Morning Song or Consolation

Advent:  The King Shall Come  (L2)  2 – 3 Octaves  3 – 5 Octaves

Thanksgiving:  Give Thanks To God Who Hears Our Cry

Morning or Thanksgiving:  Awake, Awake To Love And Work


Tune:  Prospect

Christmas:  The Hills Are Bare At Bethlehem

Pentecost:  The Lone, Wild Bird  (L3)  3 – 5 Octaves with C instrument


Tune:  Duke Street

Ascension:  Jesus Shall Reign (L1)  2 – 3 Octaves  3 – 5 Octaves  2 – 5 Octaves

Easter:  I Know That My Redeemer Lives

General:  Prelude on Duke Street

General (Trust):  Fight The Good Fight

General:  From All That Dwell Below The Skies


Tune:  Afton Water

General:  As Rain From The Clouds (L2)  3 – 5 Octaves with optional harp

Christmas:  Away In A Manger

Christmas: All Wrapped-up in One Collection

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and probably the most important season for ringing choirs – Christmas!  Get ready for the holiday with these budget-friendly collections below that work well for handchime or handbell choirs.

Not only do these collections offer a variety of music to carry you throughout Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, they are a great resource for all directors to have available for developing choirs as well as for more experienced groups needing music they can learn quickly.  Starting at Level 1 through Level 2+, these collections will allow you to be ready for Worship or Concert.  All of the resources can be found on the ChimeWorks website and are available for immediate purchase and digital download.

Come and Adore

2 – 3 Octaves, 3 – 5 Octaves

Levels 1 and 1+ This charming collection features easy Advent and Christmas arrangements playable on either handbells or handchimes.  Contents:  Ave Maria; Gentle Mary Laid Her Child (Good King Wenceslas); Go, Tell it on the Mountain; God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen; Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head; Long Ago, Prophets Knew (On This Day Earth Shall Ring); Once in Royal David’s City


I heard the Bells on Christmas Day

2 – 3 Octaves, 3 – 5 Octaves

Level 2   I Heard the Bells is a collection of seven settings appropriate for Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany including We Gather Together, Prepare the Royal Highway, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Silent Night, Joy to the World, On This Day Earth Shall Ring and We Three Kings.


Celebrate the Season

2 – 3 Octaves, 3 – 5 Octaves

Level 2 with optional percussion    Go easy on your music budget with this collection for Advent and Christmas which includes eight of Cathy Moklebust’s most popular arrangements for the season: Away in a Manger; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; Rejoice! Rejoice! (Rejoice, Rejoice Believers and Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel); Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow (There’s a Star in the East); Still, Still, Still; ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime; What Is This Lovely Fragrance?


Glad Tidings Ring

3 – 5 Octaves

Levels 2 and 2+   Glad Tidings Ring is a compilation of favorite Advent and Christmas arrangements. This budget-stretching collection features a wonderful variety of seasonal arrangements by six outstanding arrangers: Cynthia Dobrinski; Sandra Eithun; Linda R. Lamb; Kevin McChesney; Anna Laura Page and Margaret R. Tucker.  Titles include:  Earth Shall Ring; He Is Born; Lo! How a Rose; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers and Sussex Carol.

Adding Life to Music When Ringing


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!

Go “Baroque” for Proper Damping

At times, musical results don’t depend on the correct notes being rung rather, that they are damped properly.  Teaching damping is just as important as teaching ringing.  Read more about it here.  If you have piano training, you might think back to repertoire that helped mold you as the player you are today.  Undoubtedly, music from the Baroque period filled your early years more specifically, J. S. Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook and Inventions.  Just as these timeless works have helped develop proper keyboard technique to players over the centuries, a relation to ringing can be found.

While the English handbell was invented during the Baroque period, it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when more sophisticated tonal harmonies were used to accompany melodies on handbells.  This proved to develop and refine ringing techniques which were later transferred to handchimes.

Because of the clean lines and harmonies of music of the Baroque, ringers who practice this genre will develop improved damping skills which will later transfer to all the music which they ring.  When training musicians new to ringing, make it a point to program a Baroque piece which will help with their basic ringing and damping techniques.  For seasoned ringers, it is a great exercise in “tightening up” their technique.

As you plan your program year, consider music of the Baroque – not only does it sound great on ringing instruments but, the proper technique that it develops will ring on.

Here are some recommendations of Baroque music for your handchime or handbell ensemble all of which are available for purchase and Digital Download on the ChimeWorks website under Handchime Ensembles:

Largo  Antonio Vivaldi  arr. Kevin McChesney

Two Short Classical Pieces  Carl Bohm and Christopher Gluck  arr. Bob Burroughs

Thine Is The Glory  G. F. Handel  arr. Margaret Tucker

Air in D  J. S. Bach  arr. William H. Mathis

My Heart Ever Faithful   J. S. Bach  arr. Sharon Elery Rogers

Sheep May Safely Graze  J. S. Bach  arr.Sharon Elery Rogers

Rondeau  Jean Joseph Mouret  arr. Arnold B. Sherman

Go Not Far From Me, O God  Niccolo Antonio Zingarelli  arr. Martha Lynn Thompson

PADDLE Your Way to a Musical Performance

As a director of a ringing ensemble, there is an easy acronym for you to remember as you strive to achieve the most musical performance with your handchime choir of any level.  Most of the letters of this acronym are attributed to Don Allured, who was one of the early leaders of the ringing movement and taught us these points to remember as we educate and direct our choirs.

Precision is on the mark in an ensemble! Getting your ensemble to play together precisely on the beat separates excellence from mediocrity. Work with your ringers in preparing for the beat so that their chords sound together and do not imitate an arpeggio. It is important to have your ensemble work as one rather than a group of individuals. Ringing together on the beat requires physical practice for coordination and muscle memory, anticipation of the beat through breath and unified motion throughout the choir. Unified motion can be defined as ringers moving their arms in the same height or plane and all at the same tempo.

Accuracy in ringing the correct notes and rhythms is what it is the most significant part of a great performance. Allow enough rehearsal time so that your ringers can learn the notes accurately and with confidence so that there are none missing.

Duration of the note increases musicality. Musical ringing is about giving each note it’s full duration so that there are legato lines in the melody, counter-melody and harmony throughout. Cheating the beat just because or to get to another handchime does not create a beautiful, rich sound. When preparing the score, the director should review any handchime changes to make sure that they can be accomplished as musically as possible.

Dynamic contrast is key to your music becoming a master work. So often, the range of dynamics that we use is restricted. Since we have limited sonorities within our handchime set, we should use dynamics and their effects such as crescendo and diminuendo to create a larger landscape of sound. Encourage your ringers to expand their sound limits in high and low directions.

Legato Ringing – Arm motion is the breath support for the handchime. So many of us come to ringing from singing and we recognize that a good singer uses breath to form and support their sound. In ringing, the snap of our wrist initiates the sound of the handchime but it is how we move the handchime through the air once it is ringing that determines the musicality of the tonal response. How we decide to move the instrument through the air decides how it will sound.

Emotion is key to music.  Encourage your ringers to put themselves into the music.  With their hearts and spirits revealed, their music will be like none other.

Remembering to paddle your way through the music is one way to ensure that your music will ebb and flow to the best possible performance!