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.

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!

Stopped Sounds on Handchimes


Because of their design, handchimes do not lend themselves to all of the special ringing techniques as handbells.  Many of the techniques when performed, could be damaging to the handchime itself in the area of the tines which determines the tuning of the instrument.  The damage is done when the chime tube cracks at the base of the tines, changing the length of the tines.  If the vibrating tine’s length is altered in any way, the pitch is distorted permanently.

A tine generally cracks when it is bent from ringing or malleting with too much force or from using the martellato technique.  Larger tines can also bend when their vibrating cycle is interrupted.  The larger the chime, the lower the pitch and the slower the vibrating cycle.  Playing short, repeated notes on bass chimes will weaken the tines.  Shaking on treble handchimes will weaken the tines.  A rule to follow would be:  the larger the chime, the longer the duration of the note to be played.  Bass chimes should be used for a harmonic support to the handchimes above it – C4 on up.

ChimeWorks® has created the chart below as an easy reference when using special ringing techniques with handchimes:


The Finger Damp is an acceptable technique in creating a stopped sound on a handchime.  The size of the hand and the handchime will dictate who can employ the technique.  The handchime is rung with the finger already in place therefore, the vibrating cycle is not interrupted.

Finger Damp (TD)

Slide the forefinger to the top area of the handchime and place the finger pad in the center of the tine slot and ring the chime. 

This should result in pitch with little resonance. 

The size of the handchime will determine if more than one finger is needed to properly execute the technique.






While we would like handchimes to be a full replacement for handbells, it is not possible because of the design and material of the instruments.  We encourage you to embrace the unique qualities of handchimes and use their strengths in choosing repertoire and determining when to substitute them for handbells:

  • A strong fundamental pitch with fewer overtones creates a richer sound quality which is why we love to use them for slow moving harmonies.
  • Chimes are ethereal. Because aluminum is a softer metal, handchimes are more mellow in color.  This is also the cause of handchimes being slower to “speak” than handbells and why slower tempos are recommended.
  • A pure, intense tone is created by handchimes which resonates through more complex tonal sounds making them perfect to solo a melodic line.




Two Halves Make a Whole

Starting a new ringing ensemble with music that includes whole notes and half notes is recommended for the first rehearsals.  If you are directing a new group this year, you’ll want your music choices to include simpler rhythms in a moderate tempo so that your new ringers can focus on developing their ringing skills even if they are seasoned music readers.

Your ringers will have great success in playing homophonic music in which they will have the support of the group as they advance from chord to chord.  Giving them the opportunity as they work as a team in ringing and damping together will be positive reinforcement.  Musical results will be achieved as they coordinate their arm motion with the chordal ringing. Longer notes will also help develop to music literacy for pre-readers as well as eye and hand coordination.

If your new group includes those new to music-making – you will welcome the ability to teach them basic note values with resources that progress systematically.  We’ve been busy at ChimeWorks compiling some suggestions (all available for immediate purchase and digital download) for you which will get your program off to ringing success:

A Simple Prayer (Soliloquy) by Linda R. Lamb

Prelude to Sunrise by Sandra Eithun

Tranquil Chimings by Sandra Eithun

Starting Point, Volume 2 ( 2- 3 Octaves) by Sandra Eithun

Starting Point, Volume 2 (3 – 5 Octaves) by Sandra Eithun

Pathways to Musical Ringing, Volume 2 (2 – 3 Octaves) by Sandra Eithun & Michael Joy

Pathways to Musical Ringing, Volume 2 (3 – 5 Octaves) by Sandra Eithun & Michael Joy


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

Using the Appropriate Ringing Techniques with Handchimes

At ChimeWorks, we are reviewing handbell pieces that may be played on handchimes effectively.  All the titles which we recommend under Handchime Ensembles have been reviewed and approved for handchime use.  Under the product description, you may find a note of Caution which means that either the work should be played a bit slower than the suggested tempo to eliminate the percussive sounds that handchimes can make if rung too quickly or that there is a technique used in the score that is not recommended to be used with handchimes.

Not all ringing techniques and articulations that are performed on handbells may be performed on handchimes due to handchime design and the stresses that may be put on the tines of the handchime tube.  The following techniques that may be used are:  Ring, Damp, Finger Damp, Gyro, LV, Swing, Vibrato and a Mallet Strike (while the handchime is held) in the air.

Some ringing techniques cannot be used with handchimes either because they are damaging to the instrument or the handchime design does not allow the technique to be properly executed. We’ve created the chart below for easy reference in substituting ringing techniques on handchimes:

Click here to learn more about ringing techniques on handchimes.