Thursday, July 5, 2012

Using Handbells in Primary

Our primary owns a Kids Play 20-Note Chromatic Handbell set that I have pictured above (UPDATE: They may be changing their name to Rhythm Band as that's where all these links send you now but the product appears to be unchanged).  They are sold on Amazon here:

Here's the basic 8-note set which includes the red box pictured above (no sharps included, I don't recommend this one but get it if that's all your budget will allow!):

This is the 13-note set which includes the red & yellow box pictured above (a great starter set that I'd HIGHLY recommend!):

You can also purchase just the 5-note add-on set (the yellow box only) if you already own just the basic 8-note set here:

This is the extended note set which will extend your set further (the orange box), a great way to get more kids playing the bells, but not necessary - I'd recommend getting these eventually:

Then this is the 20-note case that our primary needs to get!:

I pull out the handbells several times a year.  I also have used them in Sacrament Meeting when we sing for the holidays and occasionally for our Primary Program (you should get permission from your Bishop). The kids absolutely LOVE them and we can sing a song a million times over and never get tired of it when we use the bells.

My favorite way to use them is when any song has an obligato or descant part (see I am a Child of God p. 2, Beautiful Savior verse 3 on p. 63, Every Star is Different p. 142 if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Descant:  A descant is an optional voice part with words of its own.  It is possible to play a descant as an instrumental part. (See "Hosanna," p. 66.)

Obbligato:  An obligato is an optional instrumental part above the melody.  Sometimes the part is in a range suitable for voice using the same words as the melody. (See "Keep the Commandments," p. 146).

If you know how to use chording, similar to how you play a guitar, that is also a fun way to use them.  I've done chording with the chorus of Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus and it was super fun!  You can see that note chart HERE.  For more information on chords and chording, you can reference p. 302 - 303 of the Children's Songbook.

Now, before I teach the bell portion, I first make sure I KNOW the song in and out, especially the descant or obligato part.  If I'm lost, the rest of the primary will be too.  I play it over and over again on the piano, listen to it on the CD, etc.

After I know the song in and out, I prepare note charts.  You can find examples of ones I've done HERE and HERE and HERE.  If you'll notice, on Christmas Bells (the first link) there are small black lines in the lower righthand corner of each note-box.  That's my counting.  For that song, one line means one count for that particular note.  A half line, means half of a count, 3 lines would mean 3 counts, etc.  Other songs have such simple counting (like Every Star is Different where each note gets one count) so I don't need the counting.

I print out the charts on card stock, write the pages on the back, and slip them into plastic cover sheets.  I love that these store so well.  I've also posted a Make-Your-Own-Handbell-Chart HERE if you need something customized or if you prefer to put everything on a big poster, etc.

Then in Primary I put my charts on the chalkboard using magnets and I have my trusty wooden dowel that I use as my pointer.  To use them for performing, I tape them together top to bottom, then tape that to the back of the music stand so it faces the kids.

Before I pass out the bells to the kids, I go over our handbell rules:

1.  You don't touch the color bell portion or the middle bell ringer part (I know, I'm real technical with my terms, right?).  You only touch the handle.

2.  You only ring your bell when I point to your color on the note chart.  If you ring it any other time, you may forfeit your chance to play the bells.

3.  When you are not ringing your bell, you hold it against your chest.

4.  Only good singers will get to be bell ringers so SING.

I have found it best to post words to the songs.  The bells will take over and soon you'll have no one singing so post the words.  Find how I post words HERE.  Then I like to have someone else lead the singing while I handle the bells.  Usually a presidency member or teacher jumps up to help me.

To distribute the bells, I've found it the easiest to start on the front row, every other person (or every 3 depending on the primary size and number of bells you are using), and just have the kids stay in their seats.  To rotate, everyone passes their bell to person next to them.  This way, everyone will eventually get to play each different color and you aren't shuffling bells all over the room.  The last child at the back of the room brings their bell to the front row.

Bell ringers are not expected to sing but the non-bell ringers are.  Non-bell ringers not singing, will remain as such! ;)

So once you have your notes posted on the chalkboard, the words posted, your assistant, and your bells distributed, you are ready to go.  Pull out your wooden dowel and play however you like.  Sometimes just the bells will play, sometimes just the kids will sing.  Sometimes we'll play and sing together with or without the piano.  Mix it up.  The variety is endless.

Our primary frequently performs in sacrament meeting using the handbells.  My bishop has given me permission to do so and the audience LOVES them!  Before the meeting begins, I place only the handbells to be used up near the piano, behind the modesty wall (is that what it's called?) in a line.  My pre-chosen bell choir has all been assigned a color so they know that they are to go stand behind their assigned bell, pick it up and not ring it until the appointed time.  My bell choir usually consists of the 2nd to oldest class.  This way, everyone will eventually get a turn to play them in sacrament meeting.  Then I have another adult help lead the singers so I can focus on the bells.

If you haven't tried out the handbells, seriously, hit up your Primary President for a little budget money to purchase a set for your primary.  They won't go unused and it will definitely be money well spent!!  If there's not enough budget money, see if the other 2 primaries that share your building would go in and purchase a set for all 3 primaries in the building to share.  Then just keep the set in the library where they must be checked out and returned after each use.

If handbells are out of your budget, I'd recommend a set of chimes!  You can get instructions to make your own or buy them.  Find some more information on chimes HERE.

Leave any comments for additional ideas on using the bells or what you've found to work for you!

Find all my lesson plans that incorporate handbells HERE.


Tina said...

WOW! What great ideas you have! I have a set of bells (actually different lengths of pipe attached to twine with large nails to hit them with) that I wanted to use this week in singing time and I found your post right away . . . . . I especially love your ideas about the obligato parts and chording. NICE!

Thanks! I'll think I'll give them a try this week.

Kelly P said...

We are looking into getting a bell set for our primary - have you ever wished you had the 20-note set - ? Or has the 13-note set been sufficient? Thanks!!

Camille said...

Yes, I wish we had the 20-note set. The 13-note works fine but I would just love to have more bells to play with. In fact, I just talked to our Primary President to see if next year there was room in the budget to get the rest of the set. She said I can go ahead and get them! I just didn't purchase the whole 20-note set all at once because of funding.

I've loved the bells in Primary - such a great investment!

Henckel House said...

I have just found that Amazon has better prices than the Kid's play site, and both sites sell the SAME product - you save about $10, and I haven't even checked out shipping. So, my question is - when deciding between the 20 or 13, would you prefer the 20 simply because of the number of bells to divide amongst your primary or for the variety of sound? I think it will take several years to get 13 children in our separate junior and senior primaries, not to mention 20. Today we had 7 in junior and 5 in senior.

Camille said...

Good question - the main reason why I'd want to go for the 20 set is to have the octaves. Some songs want both a higher note and the lower note. To just have the same note played when the music really has the octaves makes it sound a little different. It works fine not having the right octave but just not my preference. My second reason to have the 20 note set would be to have more bells to pass around. We have about 20 kids in Jr. and 20 in Sr. To start out, I think the 13 set would definitely suffice for a smaller primary.

I'll have to check out Amazon's prices. I'm most likely going to purchase the additional bells to bring our total up to 20 for next year.

Good luck with whatever you decide!!


Sara said...

How do you use the handbells in sacrament meeting, still keeping it reverent? I'm thinking about the part where you pass out bells and then how you post the music in the chapel.

Camille Hill said...

Hi Sara!

Before sacrament meeting, I place the bells to be used along the privacy wall that runs right in front of the piano, but behind the steps (does that make sense). They are all lined up and the kids are assigned beforehand which bell is theirs - they will have practiced their parts several times in primary.

As for the music, I tape the note chart to the back of the music stand (similar to how I post words). All the note charts are taped top to bottom so I'll raise the stand up way high so all the pages will fit hanging down. I have the stand lowered in the corner when I'm not using it. Then when we perform, I pull out the stand, move it up and stand right in front of the kids ringing the bells. If I have the rest of the primary singing, I'll have another person some help conduct the singers so I just lead the bell kids.

I hope that answers your questions - if not, let me know!