Category Archives: Composition

Composing for handbells by David York

Bells of the Cascades, an auditioned ensemble in Portland, OR, recently hosted a composition contest. Their director, David York, prepared an excellent summary for composers, and he kindly granted permission for me to share this document with you.

These guidelines have been prepared to assist composers who might be unfamiliar with handbells. Get a copy of “Handbell Notation, Difficulty Level System, Solo and Ensemble Notation” published by the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers  and follow its guidelines on notation standards and techniques. Continue reading Composing for handbells by David York

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

Transcribing vs. arranging

Someone asked recently about the difference between transcribing and arranging, and whether a copyright holder’s permission is needed to perform, say, a piano piece on handbells. These are excellent questions, and I’d like to share some thoughts from my research on copyright, as well as my experience requesting transcription rights from publishers. As stated before, I’m not an attorney, and you need to seek qualified legal advice if you intend to rely on it. However, the need for permission is clearly spelled out in the copyright law. Continue reading Transcribing vs. arranging

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

Bell trees: composing and arranging

Today’s article will address both composing for bell trees (for trained composers) and creating your own arrangements (for bell tree soloists).

It will help to become familiar with the bell tree keyboard configuration, and choose a layout you intend the soloist to use, either the one I’ve described or the one developed by Barbara Brocker. Regardless of your intent, handbell soloists may develop their own setup for your piece, but you have to start somewhere. Continue reading Bell trees: composing and arranging

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