Handbells are composed of open flared drums with hinged clappers suspended from the top. They are held by leather or plastic handles and played by shaking them so that the clapper strikes the walls of the bell. They are usually in sets of six, 12, or 25 bells, each tuned to a specific note in the diatonic or chromatic scale. Each bell is designed so that the note sustains longer than in ordinary bells, allowing them to be used in church music and bell choirs.
Types of Handbells
Kinds of Handbells include the following:
English handbells have leather clapper heads and leather or plastic handles. The clappers move only back and forth, but may be repositioned to change the bell's timbre. They are tuned to the major 12th and cover up to nine octaves.
American handbells are made of cheaper synthetic materials, such as rubber or plastic. Their clappers can move in all directions, which gives them a broader range of overtones. They have a pitch range covering four and a half to five octaves. Dutch handbells
Dutch handbells have a distinct medieval sound with constant sustained overtones. They are tuned to a minor 10th key with overtones on an octave and one-third above the fundamental. They are commonly accompanied by voice choirs in church music.
Choosing Handbells (Buying tips)
Material: Choose a handbell with a yellow brass or bronze body for a fuller, warmer tone. Make sure the clapper head is even on all sides so that the notes and overtones are uniform on every strike. Lighter bells should have flexible leather handles, while heavier ones need stiffer handles to support their weight.
Grip: Choose a handbell with a handle that fits comfortably into your hand. Leather handles are prone to moisture damage, so they usually have to be used with gloves. Rubber handles are a good alternative – they offer the same flexibility and support but are not as brittle as leather.
Hinge: Make sure your handbell's clapper is held firmly from the top. Look for one with a stiff holder instead of string so that the head strikes a limited area in the bell, giving you a more consistent tone and controllable sustains.