Are Handbells The Same As Cowbells?

This question may sound silly, but I have met people who do think that when someone speaks about handbells, they’re talking about people who ring cowbells. This is something you might see in folk-type shows in Germany and Switzerland.  The answer to the question, though, is actually no. Handbells are crafted bells using bronze, an alloy that is primarily cooper mixed with tin and sometimes arsenic. The bells are shaped to create in a chromatic scale with each bell ringing a designated musical note including naturals, flats and sharps. They sound when struck with a clapper attached on the inside of the bell.  Music is written for bells and ranked by difficulty and the number of octaves needed to play the bells.  Handbells come in all sizes from very small, such as the ones on the table to the left, and very large as you see in the forefront.


I play handbells, but my husband is the one who loves hand bell playing as much as I love writing fiction. In fact, he is published in handbell music. He attends conferences and I enjoy attending occasionally since I take a few workshops but most of all enjoy the amazing concerts that are given twice a day, usually around noon and before or after dinner.

Bells  are played using techniques as fiction is filled with writing techniques. In bells, the ringer most often uses the most common techique which is moving the hand forward and upward so the clapper hits the bell and rings.  Other techniques are called swings, shakes,echos, plucks, marts, mart-lifts, thumb damps, gyros, and mallets. Each technique has a symbol in the music and has a specific way to create the effect.

Handbells are often played with 11 or 13 people, occasionally 15, but you will find quartets, trios and duo playing handbells as well. And an amazing experience is to see one person play a complete song alone. It is an art.

If you wonder why I love to see the handbell ensembles, this video will help you understand, These 12 young people, ages 18 to 21, are from Estonia and are traveling across the country in concert. The director first learned about handbells twenty years ago and came to the U.S. to learn to play, returned to Estonia and began the first handbell ensemble there, training adults and children. Today Estonia has approximately 100 handbell ensembles and schools training people to play these amazing instruments.

You will also see large handchimes being played by the young men, so large they are struck with a mallet. Don’t miss this wonderful Estonian Ensemble, Arsis, playing the song Fiddle Faddle.





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