Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Music Tip - Hand bells and Chimes

I was in a hand bell choir for a couple of years and loved it!  Did I mention that I loved it?  It was so fun and fulfilling to be part of a group who made  music together.  We used hand bells as well as chimes.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to buy a set of chimes.  These are much cheaper than buying hand bells, but they are still quite expensive.  They make a beautiful, soft sound.   I used them at school in my music classes before I retired, and I have also used them at Church.  Children and adults both love to play them.

I have several tips for making it an easy, enjoyable way to play music with children and/or adults who don't read music well or even, at all.  The most important tip I learned from my brother 20 years ago when he was teaching a group of boy scouts to play those homemade pipes which used to be popular.
Tip 1: Each boy had his own pipe/chime and lyrics sheet.  The words to the song were all that was written on the paper (no music--since the scouts couldn't read music).  My brother circled the words to the song that the scout was to play on his chime.  Then the group would all sing/read along with the lyrics and ding their bell only when they came to a circled word on their own individual page.  Ingenious!  It works!  
To prepare a song this way, type up the lyrics with liberal spacing between words and lines.  Print as many copies as you have notes.  Say a song uses middle C, plus all the notes up to the next C.  Print out 8 copies of the lyrics.  On the first paper write Middle C, then look at the music and find which words are sung when middle C is played.  Circle those words on the lyrics page.

Next, get another lyrics page, write D at the top and again, look at the music, find the Ds and circle those words on the paper.  Continue so each note of the song has its own lyrics page.  Then hand out the lyrics, hand out the bells and sing, play and make music!
Tip 2:  You can either play the melody on the chimes/bells/pipes or play chords.  I find that if part of the group is singing the words, it sounds better to have the chimes play chords along with the piano accompaniment.  If there is no singing, the chimes can play the melody.
You can do both ways when performing a song.  You can start with the bells playing the simple melody (with or without piano accompaniment), then have the singers begin singing and the bells switch to playing the chords.

It's also beautiful to play harmony on the chimes.  Play the melody first time around, then play harmony the second time around. You would type the lyrics two times on the same paper.  The first time, circle only the melody words.  On the second set of lyrics, circle both melody and harmony words (see example above).  You can even use different colors to show which notes are the melody or harmony.
Tip 3: Sometimes a child/adult can play two or 3 different chimes.  This happens when a note is not played very often in the song.  Maybe their note is only sung once or twice (this happens with the highest note in the song). 
 It's not fun getting stuck with that chime--rather boring.  So find another note that is only played a few times, and circle the lyric page with two different colors, one for each chime.  That player thinks they are really cool because they get two chimes!
Tip 4: There are always one or two notes that get played a lot in a song.  It's usually the note the key is in. 
 Assign these notes to players who may have a little more musical training than others in the group.  These notes can be critical to the rhythm and overall success of  the performance of the song.
  Tip 5: Practice, practice correct technique when playing the chimes or hand bells.  Check out you tube videos to watch the correct way to play and dampen the chimes/bells.  I find that children younger than 4th grade don't have the physical dexterity to play chimes.  Wearing gloves is a must when playing expensive hand bells.  They are optional when playing chimes.
 To have your group look really polished and professional, teach your players the "get ready" position. Bells/chimes up to shoulders, looking at conductor, ready to begin.  The bells/chimes are always touched at the shoulders to dampen the sound after playing.  They are also held upright at the shoulders when not in play (as opposed to laying on the table).

Obviously these kids know how to read music!   

Okay, there you have it.  Go find some bells, play some music and have fun!

Thanks for reading,



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