Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Pealing of the Bells

Hand bells
Last Sunday, I experienced Primary music bliss.  I walked into the room carrying some black cloth cases, and the children's eyes got wide. They grinned, whispering excitedly to their neighbors as they pointed at what I was carrying. Yes!--I confirmed with a grin and a nod. It was hand bells day. 

I don't blame them at all! I feel the same way. The bells are colorful, the tones are clear, and the feeling of everyone working together to make beautiful music is just impossible to beat.

Choosing Bells

The bells that I use are a basic 8-bell diatonic set for the key of C, from middle C to the C one octave above, (meaning no sharps or flats). Mine are Schylling brand, from, here, but there are different brands on sale all over. Each color is a different note.  There are also add-on packs with accidentals, higher notes, and lower notes. I mostly just have multiples of this basic set, in order to get more children playing at the same time. My senior Primary has 50+ children there every Sunday, so mass involvement is crucial to me!

The full set of hand bells

I also got carrying cases, since the initial packaging isn't really made for long-term use. 

Hand bells in their carrying case

How to Chart the Songs

I searched long and hard on Pinterest to get ideas for charts to go with the bells, and I settled on one from a blog called Imagine Our Life.  I don't know anything else about the blog, but this felt pattern and I fell in love at first sight!

Movable hand bells chart
I opted to go with this chart because it's movable. I don't have to make a new chart for each new song I teach with bells; I can just move the colored notes--which adorably match the colors of the bells--as needed, since felt adheres to itself pretty well.  I also love that it utilizes a music staff. I don't teach the musical notation at all, but the children who can read music find it helpful, and I feel that I'm helping to establish a foundation for all the rest.

I found all the needed supplies at my local craft store. I got a yard of white felt for the base, and the small colored felt squares were something like $.35 each. Nice.

Supplies for making a movable bells chart.

Here's a close-up of the ribbon, felt circles, and magnet clips that I use to hold up the chart on the chalkboard.  Well, the circles are basically circular. I used a toilet paper roll as my stencil.  If you're interested, hop over to the other blog for the tutorial.

A close-up of the chart components
In my picture of the chart above, you can see that I use the notes from the guitar chords listed in The Children's Songbook.  The song shown is "Did Jesus Really Live Again?"  I use a drop down menu on the Church's interactive music player to change the key of the song to C to match my bells, and the listed chords are transposed, as well. What a dream come true!  While in Primary, the children play the chords like an accompaniment, and we sing the melody over the top. I make sure to print out a copy of the transposed song for my pianist, so she can play the melody line with us.  Next time I bring in the bells, I plan on having the children play the melody line, to change things up. On my very favorite Primary music site, To Teach a Child a Song, there is an example of how to mix in harmony notes, too.

Introducing the Hand Bells

I've found I have to go over the ground rules each time I bring in my hand bells. When you get your bell, you immediately bring it to "resting position," sitting lightly on your shoulder.  You keep the bell there until your turn to play, and afterwards you return the bell promptly.  This ensures you can actually hear the desired notes. :)

Resting position is no joke.
Before I pass out the bells, I have the children practice the motion with me: hand on shoulder, straighten arm to play, hand returns to shoulder.  We practice again in unison, pretending to ring our bells at the exact moment I reach up and touch a chord on the chart.

Then we pass out the bells. I have roughly half as many bells as children, so I have them trade off with a neighbor after each time singing through the song. If you're new to using complex activities in your singing time, be aware that you might be singing the song completely by yourself.  Even children who know the song well may be so focused on their playing that they forget to sing. That's okay!  They are hearing the song over and over again, in a new and interesting way.

One final note:  be sure to bring in hand bells for songs with a slower tempo.  If the notes move too quickly, the children will find it difficult to keep up, and they will become easily frustrated. And after all, singing time is all about finding joy in music as well as in truth from Our Father in Heaven. :)

Happy Singing!

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