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How to make the bell ring

In change ringing we call this bell handling, which is literally the way you put your hands on the bell.

Step 1. The correct grip

  • Take the handle firmly, just below the collar of the bell, wrapping all your fingers round the handle.
  • Don't forget that the bell can be quite heavy, so hang on!

See the pictures above for examples of correct handbell grips.  The image at the left shows all the fingers and thumb wrapped around the handle.  This is easier to manage if your hands are small, but requires a more definite action to strike the bell.  The right hand image (with two handbells) shows the 'classic' handbell grip, where the thumbs rest gently against the collar.  This grip makes it easier to 'snap' the bell (make it strike), but you need good strong wrists to do this well. 

See how in both cases all the fingers are wrapped around the handle, right near the bell itself.

Step 2. Making the bell strike

In change ringing we make the clapper strike once on each side of the bell, this is called the handstroke and the backstroke


Hand UP, Back DOWN
(Handstroke up, Backstroke down)


Top Tip

Ringers often say "at hand" or "at back".  This means:
  • Do it at a handstroke ('at hand'), or
  • Do it at a backstroke ('at back')

Imagine you are painting a wall.  First you bring the brush up the wall, and then at the end you flick your wrist up.  Then you change direction and pull the brush down the wall.  That is the same action as ringing a handbell for change ringing:

 The bell at handstroke.  See where the clapper ends up.  

To make a handstroke, bring the bell up with your arm and flick your wrist at the end to make the clapper strike once.

See where the clapper is?  It should be next to your shoulder so you can look down and see it.

The bell at backstroke.  Note where the clapper is.
To make a backstroke, bring the bell down towards your lap, letting the clapper strike just at the end.

Where is the clapper?  That's right, it has fallen away from you and is pointing towards your knee.


Step Three.  Practice!

This seems pretty easy, and it is!  But the trick is to make sure you ring the bells correctly over and over again.

Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. Keep the bell steady in either the handstroke or backstroke position, until you are ready to ring again. Holding the bell steady means that the clapper stays in the right position for the next stroke
  2. Make sure the clapper only strikes one time per stroke
  3. Make sure you snap the bell hard enough to make the bell sound (this is harder to do at handstroke).

As you get better, start making your motions smaller, until the bell is just moving between your shoulders and your knees.  You should be able to see into the bell at each handstroke.

My bell isn't making a noise! What is happening?

First, don't panic!  It does take a little practice to get right.  Here are some things you can try to help you:

1. If you are really flinging the bell hard and it is still not ringing, try working less hard, and move it more gently.  The key is the flick at the end.  You want to move the bell and then stop it with the flick.  That will make it ring.

2. If the bell is going over your shoulder at handstroke, you are working a bit too hard.  Lift the bell up and then flick at the end so that you are looking into the bell.

3. If you are doing all that and it still isn't ringing, then you need to make your flick at the end more definite.  Think about snapping your fingers.  If you just rub your fingers together gently, nothing happens does it?  To snap your fingers, you need to push them together firmly.  It is the same with handbells:  the flick at the end must be quite firm.

4. No sound at backstroke?  This might be because you are letting your bell tip forward after you have completed your handstroke and that sometimes tips the clapper over before you have done the next stroke.  If you are doing this, try resting your bell against your chest after each handstroke.