Hand Bells

Christmas concert season has come and gone! Ours just finished, and I have to say that I am incredibly proud of all my students. Christmas concert planning and preparation is such a whirlwind month! We are a small school, about 115 students from Kindergarten to grade 8, and every student performed on stage. Many classes sang, some classes played ukuleles and others played Orff instruments. With our instrumental arrangements, we added handbells. They were a huge hit!

My students had never seen or heard of handbells before, and it was a great treat to be able to use them. They are tuned diatonically, and the sets that we received are one octave, running from middle C to the C above middle, 8 bells total in each set.  In order to accommodate my class sizes, we used 2 sets of bells for each performance.

The 2/3 classroom performed jingle bells. Using the xylophones, glockenspiels and metallophones that we have (10 in total), we used the bells to play the melody of the song. There were 10 students playing bells and they took their job so seriously! I had made a chart of their melody, and on the day of the concert we hung the chart on a music stand so that they could follow along.

I colour coded the chart, and each student was responsible for one specific colour. The students could easily follow along and play when I pointed to the notes. I also included the words to Jingle Bells underneath, which made it very easy for the students to play in the correct rhythm. The students on the instruments played a simple bordun pattern, which sounded amazing when they all played together!

The 4/5 classroom performed an arrangement of the Carol of the Bells. I have one very talented piano player in the class, and she played her part beautifully. Others were on the barred instruments, in 3 groups playing 3 different parts to create a complex musical basis for the piano and bells.

Again I made a colour coded chart for the bells, and the students found it easy to follow when I pointed. I included some of the rhythmic concepts that we had been working on in class to the chart so that they could gain further practice with their rhythm. In total we had a 5 part song happening, and the students performed in concert the best that they had ever played it!

I absolutely love the handbells that we received from Quality Classrooms. They are very durable, although around the edges the paint has been chipping off. My students and I had several conversations about being gentle with the bells, and they could dent and that would change the tuning of the bell. Because each of the bells sounded different, it led to great musical exploration about what melodies they could create. My son very quickly figured out how to play jingle bells using them!

My students and I had several conversations about how to treat the bells, particularly about not pulling on the ringer inside the bell. They are on a spring to get the proper ringing tone and motion when the bells are moved. I had students trying to pull on them, and I was concerned with whether they would withstand that kind of treatment. I am happy to say that they have made it through the concert in fantastic shape and ready to use for our next performance!

In the concert, they added such a festive feel and they were an instrument that has never been used in our school. I am so happy that I have the opportunity to introduce these instruments to my students. The concerts are now over, and I wish all a very Happy New Year!

Written by Mandy, a k-8 music and art teacher in the Interlake School Division.

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