How to Read Handbell Notation

By Amanda Keith ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • At least one handbell
  • Handbell music
  • Pencil
Handbell players must read notations to know what technique to use when playing.

Playing in a handbell choir can be a rewarding way for a beginning musician to get involved in a group. Though it requires some music reading ability, you do not need to be an advanced music reader to play. Typically, a handbell player is responsible for two to four notes on a staff of music. Every piece of music you play will require different playing techniques, which are noted in the music. By familiarizing yourself with common handbell notations, you will become a more proficient player.

Find a reference sheet for handbell notations. Even advanced handbell players refer to handbell notation reference sheets at times. Most beginning handbell books include a quick reference sheet, or you can find one online (see Resources).

Look through your sheet music to find notations. Make note of recurring symbols and determine whether they affect the note or notes you are responsible for playing. Circle them with a pencil.

Find each notation symbol on your reference sheet. Practice playing your handbell in the manner your reference sheet instructs you to play. Some techniques are easier than others, but it is a good idea to practice on your own before attempting the technique in a group.

Make notes in your music for techniques that require you to prepare your bell ahead of time. For instance, the "pluck" technique is noted in the music with a "Pl" symbol and requires you to put the bell down and move the clapper manually with your hand. Making notes for yourself in the music will allow you to carry out the notations without missing a beat.

About the Author

Amanda Keith has a master's degree in publishing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and has written for both print and Web for the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning, focusing mainly on service-learning and community engagement. Her hobbies include baking, knitting/crocheting, general crafting, reading and playing music.