Thursday, July 5, 2012

Using Handbells in Primary

I'm a HUGE advocate of using handbells in primary!  They provide tons of movement, repetition and FUN when singing and reviewing primary songs!  There are several types, qualities and companies that sell handbells and here's what I use and HIGHLY recommend getting for your primary!
There's a new handbell company on the market - Merry Bells.  They are my favorite when it comes to quality, price and the fact that you are supporting a member of the church!  Merry Bells is unique in that you can purchase DVD's that contain digital note charts so kids can play along with all types of songs - Christmas, children's, patriotic and NOW primary!!  The handbell set includes the Christmas DVD already!  All the songs on the DVD's can be played with the basic!

I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing their 8-Note Handbell set HERE (which contains the basic 8-note set only) before you purchase any additional handbells!  Camille's Primary Ideas readers can also get 10% off by using coupon code cpi10off at checkout!!  (I do receive a small commission for sales made but I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't LOVE this product!).

The only difference with Merry Bells vs. the Kidsplay Basic note set is the white handbell you can see pictured above.  The Kidsplay brand has 2 red bells which are the C octaves.  Merry Bells has simply differentiated between the 2 C octaves with a red and white note where Kidsplay notes do not.

If you want more information on Merry Bells, check out my post HERE.

So once you have your basic set from Merry Bells (and maybe a few DVD's) and you want to expand your set, I'd recommend going with the Kidsplay/Rhythm Band brand.  (UPDATE: They may be changing their name to Rhythm Band but the product appears to be unchanged)

*Please note that all the links below are affiliate links and I make a small commission if you purchase but I HIGHLY recommend them!

Here's the basic 8-note set which includes the red box pictured above that is the essentially the same product as the Merry Bells handbells set I've referenced above:

This is the 13-note set which includes the red & yellow box pictured above:  

If you purchase the Merry Bells basic set, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the 5-note add-on set (the yellow box only).  Almost all of my note charts will require you to have these notes in addition to the basic set:

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 (you can use the extended note set as an option with all my charts).  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 in the Children's Songbook 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, I have a post HERE with more details.

Feel free to scroll through all my lesson plans that incorporate handbells HERE.

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've also tried to incorporate the words that correlate to the bell to be played to make it less confusing.

I print out the charts on card stock, 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:

Please like the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel so I know you find it useful and want more like it.

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.

I have a few demonstration videos that I've done for A Child's Prayer HERE and another one for I Am a Child of God HERE.  Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel HERE so you never miss any videos!

Our primary frequently performs in sacrament meeting using the handbells.  My bishop has given me permission to do so and the congregation 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!


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!


Moon Family said...

I have used chimes in the past to play "Christmas Bells" and I was looking at purchasing a set of bells for our Primary. I notice you recommend the 20 piece set so more kids could play them but don't you find most songs use less (unless playing chords) so more bells wouldn't help that?
It seems like two sets of bells would be better (so two kids can play the same notes being used and cover if one misses their part). Bells are pretty expensive though. Do you find them easier to play than chimes though?

Sara said...

I have a set of 20, which is really nice simply for the range. I have sometimes wished I had two sets, but am not sure I would trade the range for it. The reason I am responding here is because after I got my set, I found a cheaper place than Amazon to buy the 20-set. It's a place called The set is selling for $114 there. They also sell the case, as well as the smaller sets.

Camille Hill said...

Hi Moon Family!

I've really enjoyed the 20-handbell set. It helps with the octaves. Ideally, having a second 20-handbell set would be best. But I just opted for the full. I'm sure either would be fine.

As for chimes, definitely go for bells if your budget allows. They are much easier to handle, especially for the little kids. But if chimes is all you can do, do the chimes as they are better than nothing.

I hope that helps with your decision.


Camille Hill said...

Hi Sara!

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you found them cheaper! I'm assuming it's still the kidsplay brand...that's my favorite!


Sara said...

Yes, Camille, as far as I can tell from the pictures, they are the Rhythm Band/Kidsplay brand. Rainbow resource has great customer service, too. I'm sure they would be able to verify that.

I recently acquired the super-expansion set, sold on Amazon. I'm so excited to use them! Now we can hit that high F in Beautiful Savior, and have more octaves in other songs.

Thanks for all your work and ideas.

Becky said...

Hi Camille,
I have followed your site for a few years and I love all the ideas that you post! Thank you! I finally decided it was time to purchase the bells and did so this week in preparation for our Christmas program where the children will sing Christmas Bells.
I am excited to start using them, but I have a few questions about technique. How do you get a child to play the bell without it ringing back and forth? Is there a way to get one solid sound from the bell? We thought maybe the child could hold it against their chest.
What do you prefer and what is your technique?

Camille Hill said...

Hi Becky!

Whenever we pull out the bells, we go over the rules and how we play them. They are to hold the bells against their chest until it's their turn to play. Then I show them how to move their arm out in a forward motion. It works great with the big kids and the little ones are still learning but it's fine. I don't expect any sort of perfection with the little ones - it's just for fun :). I hope you love the bells! They are a great addition to singing time!!


Kris Allen Kearns said...

What do you think of desk bells as opposed to handbells?

Kris Allen Kearns said...

What do you think of desk bells as opposed to handbells?

Camille Hill said...

Hi Kris!

I've never used desk bells so I can't really say much about them but I think the handbells would be easier to use while sitting in a chair as the kids can just hold the stem to ring them rather than needing a table/desk. I'm probably not much help, sorry. Maybe try asking on the FB page.


Owen Muse said...

When I saw this idea about 3 weeks ago I was addicted! I bought the 20 bell set along with the carrying case from my own money so I never have to give them back. I can see family Christmas times, reunions, Seminary, girls camp.... the list does not stop at primary! My brain wont stop!!!!

I got a folder for each bell. Each folder has the words to the songs in it (right now I have about 25 songs in each folder). On the song sheets I highlighted ONLY THE WORD that particular bell plays and told the children that if they sing along they will have better rhythm of when to play their note. Works perfect!!

For singing time I hand out a bell and a folder to each child that correlates to the song (I don't hand out all 20 bells; if there are only 7 notes in a song I will hand out the 7 bells/folders). I tell the children what page we are playing then have them sit in a big circle. The rest of the children without bells/folders fill in the empty spots and I give them a funny picture of something or someone singing (like a dog howling, a baby singing, just funny cartoon pictures; I laminated these). I just use the pictures as markers, just to keep the circle going. So the deal is, the bell players play and sing and the picture holders sing. Song over, everybody rotate to the left and do it all over again. Easy-peasy

I love the circle idea so they can all see each other, it gets them a little movement but its easiest to lay their folders on the floor in front of them.

Kelsey said...

I'm also having trouble with the bells ringing multiple times when I ring it. So I was wondering, when you hold the bell against your chest, is it handle down and colored bell up. Or is it handle up and bell down? I know I'm getting way too specific but I haven't quite mastered the bell ringing. and I can't decide what is the best way to hold it when ringing it.

Camille Hill said...

Hi Kelsey,

We usually hold them like the kids are in this video:

Only they just ring it once instead of continuously when it's their turn.

I hope that helps some.


families are forever said...

Thanks so much for all your posts! On the bell charts you have posted which bell set or sets are need to play from your charts? Thanks

Camille Hill said...

Hi families are forever!

Great question - I will update my post with my response as well. All my charts require you to have the 13-note set (the red and yellow boxes). You can use the extended note set optionally (the orange box).

Let me know if you have any more questions!


families are forever said...