When to ring?

How can we use handbells, handchimes or belleplates in church?

The following are only some of the ways in which handbells have been used in church services. There is plenty material available from many publishers to help you - this list only gives the briefest of glimpses at what is around!

Check out the excellent on-line listing of Emerson Enterprises or Jeffers Handbell Supply for music for handbells from all publishers.


For a festive start to a service have four groups of ringers stationed in the four corners of the church ringing antiphonally or together using only the first, second, third, fifth and sixth notes of a scale rung randomly.

Published introits for choir and handbells e.g. Service Music with Bells by Hal Hopson publisher Agape (code RS7720)

Use belltrees (perhaps with coloured ribbons tied to the lowest bell handle for a festive service) in various positions around the church or in a processional. Belltrees are several bells interlinked by their handles and held by the uppermost handle then played using a mallet. For list of published belltree music click here.

Accompanying hymns

Processional praise - if the choir processes at the start of a service the ringers may lead or follow with an easily memorised accompaniment to the opening hymn e.g. Seventeen Handbell Processions arranged by Albert Zabel, publisher Agape (code 1400).

Have ringers use belltrees to accompany a processional hymn or to add a descant. For list of published belltree music click here.

Ring the hymn melody doubled in octaves.

Ring the alto or tenor line from a hymnal as an easy descant.

Published descants for handbells e.g. Hymn Descants for Handbells Set 4 arranged Douglas E Wagner, publisher Beckenhorst Press (code: HB11).

Random ringing of the first, second, third, fifth and sixth degree of scale in a last verse of a hymn, or in any verse of pentatonic hymns.

Published hymn accompaniments with special organ and handbell parts e.g. Processional on All Glory Laud and Honour arranged Cynthia Dobrinski publisher Agape (code 1230).

Prelude, Offertory or postlude

Many pieces are suitable, either as a piece for handbells alone, with organ or with other instruments, e.g.
Canticle of Hope by Cynthia Dobrinski, publisher Agape (code 1150) for handbells alone; Rondo Jubilate by Douglas Wagner, publisher Agape (code 1400) for handbells and organ; Thanks be to Thee arranged by John F Wilson, publisher Agape (code 1396) for handbells and flute.

Enrich scripture readings

Ring an introduction which sets the mood.

Ring as a response, e.g. Psalms for All Seasons II arranged by Barbara Semmann publisher Agape (code 1383)

Ring as background to the reading e.g. Meditations (with narrator) arranged Douglas E Wagner, publisher Beckenhorst Press (code HB20)

Accompany prose Psalms by providing cadences in medieval style e.g. Tintinnabulum - the Liturgical Use of Handbells by Richard Proulx publisher GIA (code G-2358); or by use of an ostinato.

Handbells as the basis for dramatising biblical stories

Luke 7:1-10 about faith - ringers pretend to try a new piece of music but make loud negative comments and make a mess until director tells them to have faith and they make positive comments and produce a beautiful performance.

Noah and the Ark by Tammy Waldrop (for handbells and narrator) publisher Ring Out Press (code 910100611).

Choral Anthems

Surely the Lord is in this place by Colvin arranged Parrish publisher Word, Inc (code 4057312) for SATB and handbells; On the Third Day by Allen Pote publisher Agape (code F1000) for SATB, handbells, brass, timpani and keyboard.

Creative/Interpretative movement

Handbells play descriptive piece such as Beside Still Waters by Howard Starks, publisher Agape (code 1047) which may have Psalm 23 as a piece of meditative text.


The Lord Bless You and Keep You by Peter C Lutken arranged Mary Kay Parrish publisher Ring Out Press (code 910201117) for SATB and handbells.


As a pre-cursor to a service as the congregation enters (or at the end as they leave in a service such as a wedding) have the ringers ring change-ringing outside the door of the church to simulate the sound of tower bells. For further ways of incorporating simple change-ringing click here.


Malcolm C Wilson

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