All posts by nkirkner

Four-in-hand setups, Shelley plus and minus

In this article, I’m assuming you’re comfortable with the standard “ring and knock” method of four-in-hand. I may come back to four-in-hand fundamentals another time. Today, I’m going to focus on four-in-hand setup choices and one method of changing the setup in the air, called Shelley plus and minus. This could also be used for pairs of bells not in Shelley position, like “ring and knock.” Continue reading Four-in-hand setups, Shelley plus and minus

Traveling four-in-hand

In this article, I’m assuming you’re comfortable with the standard “ring and knock” method of four-in-hand. (I may come back to four-in-hand fundamentals another time.) Here, I’m going to focus on traveling four-in-hand. Remember that the first bell you pick up is the primary bell, the one held by your thumb and index finger. You may think of this as the bell you “ring” in “ring and knock.” The second bell you pick up is the secondary bell, between your index and middle fingers, or the “knock” bell. Continue reading Traveling four-in-hand

Basic principles of choreography, keyboard layout, and displacement

Over the next several weeks, I’ll talk about how I approach choreographing a piece. I’ll include the pros and cons of each approach, as well as when and how I’d use each. Throughout this discussion, I assume you’re ringing bells placed horizontally on the padded table. Some soloists place the bell handles upright, and they may use different methods to organize them. Continue reading Basic principles of choreography, keyboard layout, and displacement


Memorizing music frees you from the distraction of following notes on a page and allows you to relate to your performance partners and your audience while expressing the music to the fullest extent. Movement, even dance, is a key part of solo ringing, and you generally don’t see dancers with paper in front of them during performance. Having a binder of music (or worse, several binders of music) propped up in front of you prevents the audience from seeing the bells fully and may also block the sound. Even laying the music flat on the table draws your focus away from where it belongs: on the bells and your audience. Continue reading Memorization

Hearing protection

Hearing is a musician’s most important asset. As handbell musicians, and especially as soloists, we routinely put a loud, high-pitched instrument near our ears. We may rehearse in a room that reflects sound back at us, or in a row in front of other handbell musicians. We need to think early in our musical journey about protecting our hearing. It’s particularly important for advanced ringers, who may be exposed to more four-in-hand techniques in the high treble, and for those ringing bell trees. Bells on bell trees aren’t generally damped, so there’s an accumulation of sound right at ear level. Church ringers may need to think about protecting their hearing at Easter, where brass instruments may be combined with the bell choir, perhaps playing behind them. Continue reading Hearing protection

Transcribing for solo handbells

Today’s article is for handbell soloists who want to create their own arrangements. Technically, what we do is considered a ‘transcription.’ An ‘arrangement’ includes substantial original material and requires the same skills as an original composition. I suggest you read my articles on Repertoire and Information for composers. I strongly suggest you use repertoire published for solo handbells until you reach at least an intermediate level and routinely create your own choreography. Then you can recognize what kinds of music work well on solo handbells and solve choreography problems. A beginning soloist can waste a lot of time transcribing works that require skills not yet learned. Continue reading Transcribing for solo handbells

Composing for solo handbells

I’m writing today for experienced composers who want to learn more about writing for solo handbells. (I’ll write another time for soloists who want to create their own transcriptions.) I’m assuming you’re familiar with handbells as a choir instrument. You may want to review my videos and videos of other handbell soloists on YouTube, to get a sense of how we play handbells as a solo instrument. I suggest also viewing my pages About Solo Handbells and Solo Handbell Methods to become more familiar with the techniques discussed below. My earlier article on Repertoire may interest you, and the Notation Guide published by Handbell Musicians of America (formerly AGEHR) will prove useful. Continue reading Composing for solo handbells


Gloves are a highly personal preference. Handbell musicians wear them to protect the bronze castings from tarnishing and spotting through contact with the oils and minerals that naturally occur in human skin. If not removed, these marks will etch the metal permanently. As a choir ringer, I started with cheap shared cotton gloves, progressed to gloves with dots, and from there to dots and Velcro wrist straps. I think the latter are a good choice for most choir ringers. The dots provide a secure grip, and the straps keep the gloves from slipping during bell changes. If you find the straps confining, you can replace them with a longer piece of Velcro. Continue reading Gloves

Solving problems in practice

If the bells make noise or roll when you set them on the table, remove your hand straight up, and be sure the bell is all the way down to the table before you release it. Set the bell down, don’t drop it.  It also helps to unwrap most of your fingers from the handle as the bell moves down to the table, so you’re holding the bell between the tips of the thumb and index finger. I’ll talk another time about how I prevent the bells from rolling in the way I set up my equipment. Continue reading Solving problems in practice