Category Archives: Solo work

Difficulty levels for solo handbell music

There’s been some discussion recently about developing a system for assigning difficulty levels to solo handbell music. At present, works are not rated or are rated by subjective criteria, either by a handbell soloist (who tends to be more accurate) or by a non-solo-ringing handbell editor or composer (with mixed results). A common mistake is to assume a piece that is easy to read is easy to solo ring. Continue reading Difficulty levels for solo handbell music

Elements of a good first solo

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a good solo piece for a beginner, especially a first solo. I see many handbell soloists dive into repertoire too quickly and ambitiously. It’s time well spent to solidify skills and do choreography exercises before applying them to a performance piece, and to perform simple pieces before tackling hard ones. I’ve developed some choreography exercises that you will find here: Choreography exercises. When picking a performance piece, I suggest using published repertoire at first. There will be plenty of time later to develop your own arrangements, which adds a level of complexity to the task. Continue reading Elements of a good first solo

Small stuff

Being a concert solo handbell artist isn’t cheap. I’ll write another time about the major investments in equipment (like bells) and training required for a serious study of this instrument. Today’s article is about the astonishing array of “small stuff” I’ve acquired in my work as a handbell soloist. (And not so small stuff – the Bellmobile and piano both made the list!) Continue reading Small stuff

Photocopies and “fair use”

Making copies in any form is one of the rights assigned exclusively to the copyright holder under copyright law. In addition to the usual copyright notice of “All rights reserved,” publishers sometimes use stronger wording to reinforce that photocopying sheet music is illegal. As handbell musicians, we want to do the right thing, but that can be difficult with so much misinformation floating about.

Read here about:

• The myth of the ‘working copy’
• Ways to accommodate copying restrictions
• What “fair use” really means Continue reading Photocopies and “fair use”

Starting, ending, and transitions

I once read that a good sermon consists of a good beginning and a good ending, as close together as possible. While audiences don’t often nod off during handbell solos, we can engage them with a variety of openings and closings that enhance both the musical and the visual effect. Instead of starting and ending every piece with bells at the shoulder, wouldn’t it be more interesting to add some variety to your concert? Which would you rather watch: someone fidgeting during the piano introduction, or a soloist who approaches the table with confidence, making every move count? Would you rather see a soloist run down the table and snatch up bells for the next section, then stand idle until the piano catches up, or watch her move gracefully through the transition at her leisure? Continue reading Starting, ending, and transitions

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

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

Getting started as a soloist – repertoire

When you consider the number of hours that go into learning a handbell solo, and that even the most advanced soloists may have a repertoire of fewer than 100 pieces, you can see the need to choose each piece very carefully. It’s fine to choose your favorite hymn or song as your first piece, but after that you need a strategy for repertoire selection. You want your future concert pieces to have something more in common than that they’re being played on handbells. Every piece needs to be one you truly love, because you’re going to play it literally hundreds of times as you learn it. Continue reading Getting started as a soloist – repertoire

Getting started as a soloist – skills

Before you launch into learning your first solo piece, take the time to develop good technique. Plan to spend time on drills at every practice session; you want to form good habits from the beginning. The basic skills you’ll need immediately are changing bells, table damping, weaving, four-in-hand (ring and knock), Shelley, and an understanding of which hand to use to start a passage. If you don’t know how to do some of them, maybe you’re not ready to start solo ringing. You would be better off finding a quartet to ring with; small ensemble experience is an ideal way to transition from choir ringing to solo ringing. Continue reading Getting started as a soloist – skills