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.

For health reasons, ringers should have their own gloves. It’s easy to take a cardboard wine carton and label the slots for each member of the choir, then store the box with the bell equipment. Ringers who take their gloves home can get a zippered mesh pouch from Eagle Creek that fits in a music binder. Avoid plastic pencil pouches or plastic bags, because the gloves need air to dry out between rehearsals. When buying gloves for a choir, you can sometimes get a discount for buying a dozen at once, in the same style but in your choice of sizes.

For more advanced ringers, gloves with Velcro straps but without dots are a better choice. This provides quicker release for bell changes in fast passages. I also do a lot of finger damping, and the dots make noise and stick to the casting. Look for gloves with extra fabric to pad the space between your index and middle finger, for four-in-hand. The gloves I buy have reinforcement all the way from the thumb to the ring finger.

The main disadvantage of all-cotton gloves is that you tend to wear a hole in the tip of the index finger of your non-dominant hand. This happens because the Velcro tab chafes when you put the gloves on. I cut a small strip of the “loop” (smooth) Velcro and put it on the end of the tab. That creates a smooth extension I can grab to pull the tab over my wrist. It looks like this:


I do this only for my practice gloves. I keep separate performance gloves in a gear box that goes to every performance. I’ll talk more about this box another time. I make sure I have at least two pairs of gloves that have been washed and paired, in case a glove develops a hole during performance. I wear these only for performance, and demote them to practice gloves when they’re no longer pristine. All the new gloves I buy (I tend to buy many pairs at once) are set aside for performance. They cycle through from performance gloves to practice gloves to mended practice gloves, until finally I can’t stand them and throw them away.

Some musicians ring without gloves, but I find I get faster release with cotton gloves than with bare hands. It also keeps the bell castings cleaner, with less need to wipe down the bells, if you don’t touch the metal directly. I always wipe down the bells when I’m packing them before and after a performance, but don’t generally take the time to do that for every solo practice session. Choirs should take the time to wipe them down every rehearsal, because it takes only a few minutes when each ringer has half a dozen bells. I do ring without gloves in malleted pieces, such as bell tree, to improve accuracy.

I prefer gloves with dots for six-in-hand work, especially while learning a piece. The dots keep the bells from shifting and causing blisters. Obviously, this works only if the piece is stand-alone, not a passage in a longer piece, and only if the bells require minimal damping. Wash the gloves several times to “break in” the dots and prevent too much sticking. While learning six-in-hand technique, moleskin or medical tape strategically placed on your fingers can minimize blistering.

I also suggest dots if you need to pluck bells, especially in the high treble, as it’s easier to grip the clapper with them.

Some handbell musicians swear by unlined Isotoner gloves. Though more expensive, they last much longer. They come in 2 sizes: extra large, and ‘one size fits nobody,’ which equates to about a medium. They are just a little too large for me, but I can see how they would be wonderful if they fit you. I do wear them when I play ‘Symphonia on Hyfrydol.’ I remove my gloves for the mallet section, and the Isotoners come off with less fuss. They’re also helpful sometimes in practice, because they make my grip a little more awkward. When I switch back to cotton gloves, picking up bells seems so much easier, especially four-in-hand presets. Isotoner gloves are a seasonal item in stores, so you have to buy them in winter. (I have been able to buy them online.)

I always choose black gloves. Black goes with everything, and draws attention to the bronze castings, rather than your hands. White gloves draw attention to your hands, if that’s the effect you want. Colored gloves are awkward, because it’s hard to match colors exactly, and it looks a little odd if your outfit is one shade of red and your gloves are a slightly different shade. I’ve also seen gloves with decoration on the back. I generally prefer to draw attention to the instrument, not my wardrobe.

I wash my practice gloves every week in a mesh lingerie bag with the rest of my laundry. I don’t put them in the dryer, because I’ve heard that the chemical on dryer sheets damages handbells. (Whenever I dry any fabric that touches my bells, like table covers, I omit dryer sheets.) For weekly glove laundry, it’s easy just to hang them up to dry. The best way to get white gloves clean is to put them on and wash your hands, gloves and all, with your choice of soap. When gloves develop a hole, generally at the fingertip, I switch the little extra Velcro tab from black to white so I can identify them easily after they’re laundered, then wash them and put them in the sewing box. When I mend gloves, I put the handle of a wooden spoon up into the fingertip, as a darning egg.

Some glove vendors have sizing charts online, so you don’t have to guess your size. Handbell gloves come in XS, S, M, L, and XL. Besides handbell vendors, retailers who supply uniforms to marching bands also carry cotton gloves. You can search online for “parade gloves.” For fancy styles, search for bridal or dress gloves, and check the costume shops. I used to have a ringer who’s a funeral director, and she wears pallbearer gloves!

Bass ringers (and others) often need extra protection for their hands. Try double gloves (wearing 2 pairs, one on top of the other). You might experiment with dotted gloves over plain gloves, or vice versa. Go to a sporting goods store and try on different types of gloves, testing with a barbell from the store, to see which you prefer. Look for gloves with some or all of the fingertips open, facilitating page turns. If you buy sports gloves that are mostly black with some white spots, you can use a marker to fill in the white.

I’ve heard of bass ringers using:

• Bicycle gloves
• Fishing gloves
• Shooting gloves
• Weightlifting gloves – Harbinger Flex-Fit
• Diving gloves
• Batting gloves – Under Armor
• Golf gloves
• Motorcycle gloves – Harley-Davidson
• Equestrian gloves – Bionic
• Car driving gloves – Bionic
• Sailing gloves – Harken “Black Magic” – look for them at a marine chandlery
• Multi-sport gloves – Head

If you sub for another choir, or attend a handbell class, bring your own gloves. It’s a sign of professionalism to come prepared. If subbing for performance, ask what color gloves to bring. Even if you ring your own bells without gloves, seek permission before handling other people’s bells with bare hands. National handbell events nearly always require ringers to wear gloves when using borrowed bells.

Copyright © 2011 Nancy Kirkner,