Choreography exercises

Doing exercises will help you learn solo handbell choreography (sometimes called “blocking.”) That, in turn, will free you to explore works not specifically published for solo handbells. You can create your own exercises by writing out a 1 octave scale, both ascending and descending, in any key. Try several different approaches to choreographing the scale, document it with solo notation, then try another key. You can also do this with a phrase of any handbell solo, or any musical line within your bell range.

Here are some solo-friendly scales to get you started:

F scale choreography exercise

G scale choreography exercise

Here are some passages from actual solo bell pieces:

Choreography exercise 1

Choreography exercise 2

Choreography exercise 3

Permission is granted to print these exercises (and the instructions below) for your personal use.

How to use these exercises:

There are no right or wrong answers – there are only comfortable and awkward choreography solutions. Choreography is nearly always a trial and error process, even for experienced soloists. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to choreograph each exercise and document it with standard solo notation. Try at least three different approaches to each exercise. (The exercise is repeated on the sheet for this purpose.) Don’t expect every approach to work well. Some won’t work at all, and you may have to combine approaches to obtain an elegant and musical solution. It isn’t necessary to play at tempo when working out choreography, but your preferred solution should be playable at tempo, if you were to practice it repeatedly. With experience, you’ll learn to recognize the difference between choreography that smoothes out with practice, and choreography that is inherently unworkable.

Possible approaches:

• Play the entire passage with single bells, alternating hands.
• Change the starting hand.
• Weave. Consider displacing or reversing bells as you table damp on the way up the scale and replacing them on the way down.
• Look for constants and use traveling four-in-hand. Try different constants.
• Displace or preset bells. Choose different bells to displace.
• Swap two adjacent bells.
• Pass bells between hands. Identify other points to pass a bell, freeing up the correct hand when needed. Choose the least disruptive pass (preferably on a long or repeated note).
• Play consecutive bells paired in the same hand. This is especially useful on short note values (8th or 16th notes), instead of changing bells.
• Use shelley plus or minus.
• Mallet bells on the table. Try different stickings (i.e., change the mallet hand you use to strike certain bells).

You can also watch for places to use skills you may not have learned yet, like six-in-hand or bell trees. Identify particular aspects of the passage that make that technique appropriate.

Example 1: A passage that sounds good LV (determined by playing it on the piano, with pedal) might work well on bell trees.
Example 2: A passage using only 6 small bells might be played six-in-hand.

In an actual piece, the six-in-hand or bell tree section will work only if the bells are available, either as duplicates, or as bells not needed elsewhere in the piece, or where you have sufficient time to set the bells up for the technique during a piano interlude. Still, it’s worth considering these possibilities, so you get used to spotting opportunities to apply these techniques once you’ve mastered them.

Doing all the exercises will take several weeks. I suggest doing only one at a time, in the order presented, taking as much time as you need to complete it. In the process, you’ll:

• Start to recognize situations where you might apply certain techniques
• Learn which approaches you instinctively favor
• Identify techniques you want to spend more time practicing
• Master solo notation

Copyright © 2013 Nancy Kirkner,