Some time ago, I wrote about the fact that getting started on handbells is easier than getting started on tower bells, because there isn't the difficulty of learning to handle a bell. At the time, I was thinking that bell handling on handbells is almost trivial; certainly I don't remember spending much time on it when teaching handbells. However, as we ring with a wider range of people, and try to establish a good rhythm in whatever we are ringing, I now think that handling is also rather important on handbells. Just as with tower bells, there are handbell ringers who are held back by poor handling style.
Yesterday I enlisted Dorothy's help to make a short film of me ringing handbells with what I consider to be a good style; that is to say, my normal style. I should add the usual modest disclaimers: I am not claiming to have the best handbell style in the world, and I am not claiming that it's impossible to ring well with different styles. However, my style does enable me to ring with a good rhythm and it's comfortable for a peal length. The image below is a link to a YouTube video.
This is a little unrealistic because I'm ringing by myself; what I'm actually doing is ringing the first lead of Bristol Major on the tenors, according to an imagined rhythm inside my head. The ringing might be a little slow, and when I'm ringing properly there is likely to be a little more upper body movement, not to mention occasional pointing or sideways motion of the bells. But here are the points that I think are important.
- Sitting up straight, in an upright, fairly straight-backed chair.
- Elbows in at the sides of the body, not sticking out sideways.
- Bells swinging straight up and down.
- Bells coming towards the centre of the lap at backstroke, not towards the outsides of the legs.
- Hands resting on the thighs at backstroke (keeping the bells suspended constantly is too tiring for a peal).
- Firm grip with the whole hand around the handle, not delicately with the fingertips (it's a bell, not a violin bow).
- Smooth motion, starting at the appropriate time to anticipate the arrival of the place I'm going to strike in.
From now on I'm going to pay more attention to handling when teaching handbells. After all, it's the only kind of bell that even has a handle!