History of HandChimes and
Difference from HandBells?(1)
Origination of HandChimes
The handchime instrument was developed relatively recently (20th Century). Because handchimes are a relatively new performing instrument, new possibilities for their performance expressiveness are being developed each year. It is an interesting evolution to watch.
There is an interesting parallel between why handbells were previously developed, and why handchimes were more recently developed. Both were originally developed as educational tools, with neither originally used for performance.
As discussed on the page about handbells, they were originally developed for those who rang large church bells in what is called change ringing. That is to play all combinations of ringing orders of the bells in that church tower. Handbells were developed so those change bell ringers could practice their change ringing without bothering the whole town. It was only afterward that hHandbells eventually evolved into a chromatic performing instrument of their own.
After handbells had evolved into a performance instrument on their own, numerous music educators recognized the potential of their students learning how to play in handbell choirs. However, the schools needed an instrument that was less expensive, required less equipment to maintain, did not tarnish from fingerprints on the brass, was sturdier, i.e., could better tolerate being dropped, and was easier for young hands to manipulate than the expensive, and heavy bass handbells. Handchimes were initially developed to meet that need for teaching very young students how to play handbells.
Then, like the handbells developed a couple hundred years before had evolved into being a performance instrument, so too did handchimes evolve into being a performing instrument. In both cases it was because of the pleasing sound. Note. Handchimes have a different unique sound of their own.
To achieve the desired cheaper, easier to maintain, more tolerant of being dropped, easier for young hands characteristics, handchimes are made using a very different manufacturing process, and from a very different material than handbells. In the case of handbells:
They are first cast in a foundry, largely of bronze and sent to the manufacturer to make the final bell;
The manufacturer carefully removes material from the forged casting using lathes to create a bell with the proper pitch; and
Various other processes attach the handle, internally mount the clapper mechanism, polish, etc.
In the case of handchimes:
They are manufactured using a metal tube, most commonly of aluminum, which is made by an extrusion process, rather than being cast.
Extrusion is a process of forming something by forcing or pushing it out, especially through a small opening:
Just as the foundary is separate from the handbell manufacturer, the extrusion process for making the required aluminum tubing almost certainly is performed by a specialized entity different from the one which does the rest of the handchime manufacture. This specilization of the extrusion process is likely analogous to the separate forging process performed by a foundary for bell manufacturer. (See references (writeup and video) for the extrusion process);(2, 3)
As part of the manufactureing process a slot is cut in the upper part of the tube to produce a tuning fork type of musical instrument that produces the pitched tone. (The length of the slot in the tube, which indirectly determines the overall length of the handchime, determines the fundamental pitch. Just as with bass aluminum handbells, the fundamental pitch of the handchime is the dominant tonal element, i.e., handchimes do not have the multiple overtones of a handbell);
The length of the unslotted portion (that which is held by the ringer's hand) is fitted with a plug to provide substantial reinforcement of the tone produced by the slotted portion (the tines); and
The clapper mechanism is externally mounted and strikes the tube's slotted tine at a predetermined point to produce the desired tuned pitch tone.(4)
The handchime instrument created by this very different manufacturing process meets all the requirements set forth by the music educators!
Embraced by Other Than Music Educators
In addition to regular music classroom educators who had requested such a new product, handchimes were also welcomed by:
Special education teachers who are able to use them with students with a wide variety of disabilities;
Directors and music therapists who work with senior adults, discovered handchime instruments could be played from a seated position and their lighter weight put less strain on wrists and arms than handbells. That offered an opportunity for seniors to ring in a musical ensemble;
Elementary music specialists who prefer the sound of (Carl) Orff percussive instruments(5) over the more percussive sound of the piano, are embracing the sound of handchimes; and
Musicians/ringers have come to appreciate the distinctive timbre of tones produced by handchimes. Thus, many handbell choirs now also own full sets of handchimes that they use in various mixes with their handbells.
Like handbells, handchimes are available from several manufacturers. As a result of the growing popularity as a performing instrument, the instrument has also grown in size to include lower octaves, and is now available from one manufacturer in up to seven octaves.
Each manufacturer uses their own registered brandname for their handchimes:
Malmark (U.S.) uses ChoirChimes®;
Schulmerich (U.S.) uses MelodyChimes®; and
Suzuki (Japan) uses ToneChimes®.
There are some limitations caused because handchimes are largely made out of aluminum. They are more prone to metal fatigue than the handbell made out of bronze. When rung loudly too much, a tine of the handchime can crack. Playing short, repeated notes on bass chimes will weaken the tines, and vigorous shaking on treble handchimes will weaken the tines. Cracking a tine functionally alters the effective length of the vibrating tine, which permanently distorts the pitch. This essentially causes it to lose its tuning and it becomes unplayable.
Unlike a technique done with playing a handbell, ringers should not handle the handchime clapper at all;
They must be careful the tines are not bent;
Do not attempt to adjust the tone plug (it’s inside the lower shaft);
Although handchimes do not need as much foam on the performing tables as handbells, a foam cover on the table is advisable if the ringers are going to change chimes they are holding, by quickly putting a handchime down on the table.
Each brand is a little different and each manufacturer has a downloadable maintenance manual on their website;
Tools come with handchimes and can be used for slight adjustments, e.g., for easy fixes like squeaks.
Difference in Sound
Because of the shape of the instrument (it is basically a large tuning fork), and the material of which it is made, primarily aluminum, handchimes produce a purer fundamental tone than that of the handbell – meaning there are fewer overtones present.
(The bass alumuminum handbells from Malmark similarly produce a purer fundamental tone than the Bronze handbells.)
Additionally, the quality of the sound produced by handchimes is less percussive and mellower. The unique timbre of the handchime has created its own musical “claim to fame” and has taken the instrument much further as a performing instrument than the original, narrow concept of just an educational training tool for teaching handbell ringing. Some refer to the sound of the handchime as being Ethereal.
Role as A Performance Instrument
It quickly became obvious handchimes were more than just a "less expensive alternative to the handbell" (as asserted by an early advertisement). The sound produced by handchimes is now recognized as a beautiful sound in its own right. As a result, directors of handbell choirs have come to appreciate the role the unique sound qualities of handchimes can play in performance. It is now fairly common for handbell choirs to also own a set of handchimes. They may be used in combination with the handbells, or separately. The handchime as a performance instrument has gained considerably in popularity.
Of particular interst to this website, the timbre of handchime's sound blends much better with the human voice than does the handbell, making handchimes much more of a “natural” for accompanying voices.
Differences in Playing Techniques
Handchimes are not intended to execute the more percussive special techniques of the handbell;
Playing with the Martellato(6) technique, where the handbell is struck against the table(7), or striking with hard mallets to get staccato effects, will damage handchime instruments;
One method of damping (or essentially quickly muting the vibrations of sound) after the handchime is rung, which is similar to what is done with handbells, is by bringing the handchime up against the shoulder or chest;
Another technique used from handbells with the handchime to create a short stacatto damped ringing is called a Thumb Damp. On a handbell the bell is rung with the Thumb placed against the bell. The adaptation for the handchime is that the handchime is rung with the forefinger of the ringing hand placed high in the center between the tines;(8)
Another technique used for cutting down on the duration of vibrations to create a staccato sound is achieved by firmly pressing a finger (or a thumb and a finger) into the base of the handchime's tines “U” opening located above where the chime is held by the ringer. Depending on how firmly the thumb is pressed into the base of the U of the tines, determines how much the ringing is dampened;
A variation on this is a technique for handchime vibrato. The ringer lightly touches the “U” opening at the base, then releases, and then continues alternating between touch and release. Use of the vibrato on a long note gives warmth and life to the sound. Increasing the vibrato helps to intensify a crescendo, while taking vibrato out adds to the effect of a diminuendo;
The echo technique achieved on a handbell can be approximated on a handchime by using the same basic motion as a vibrato, but using both the thumb and the index finger on opposite sides of the “U” opening and using slightly more pressure than for a vibrato. The number of pulsations required for an echo will be notated on the music, where the number of pulsations used for vibrato are up to the performer and are dictated by the style and place in the music;
Shakes and tower swings used with handbells do not have the same aural effect for handchimes – and a shake that is done too loudly can cause damage to the handchime;
Unlike handbells, soft mallets are not effective for playing a chime on the table; however a large soft mallet can be used on a suspended chime, which is more common on bass Chimes;
Some pieces that are written for handbells simply do not work to be played with handchimes. Music that requires great agility, a percussive sound, or a large number of stopped techniques are best avoided. However, a large body of music exists that is suitable for handchimes — and more is being written every day.
In some room spaces, just as the sound of an aluminim bass bell will carry better than the bronze bass bells, the sound from handchimes will carry better than from handbells. Experiment in your room space to see. You can use handchimes to play the melody while bells accompany or vice–versa. If your space absorbs low sounds, consider doubling the bass bronze bells with bass handchimes.
Performance Examples -- None include bass handchimes
A marvelous example on YouTube of a more advanced group of handchimers illustrates various of the above damping techniques used for expression: "Let It Go" (Version arranged by Kevin McChesney)
Two examples on YouTube of less advanced handchimers that do not use damping techniques include:
The well known traditional hymn Amazing Grace (which shows a couple players using 4-in-hand playing technique) - Amazing Grace; and
The well known secular song Edelweiss - Edelweiss.
6 Martellato technique rings a handbell by holding it by the handle and gently striking the full body of the handbell horizontally on a properly padded table so that the clapper strikes the bell casting immediately after the bell strikes the foam padding.
- This technique should Not be used with a HandChime! -
The Martellato technique is a favorite of HandBell ringers and composers alike. It produces a stopped sound with a strong "pop" of staccato sound, and is used to create more dramatic effects and excitement.
There are a few safeguards that may be taken to ensure that no damage will be done to the handbell when using this playing technique:
The martellato technique should not be used on bandbells with a pitch lower than G3;
Be sure that the handbell is lifted only 2 to 3 inches above the table before it is struck on the padded table. Raising the handbell higher than a few inches may cause a stronger impact than desired;
Hold the entire handbell in a horizontal position over the padded table. This will help to ensure that the entire wall of the bell casting strikes the pad at once, which disperses the force throughout the bell instead of concentrating it at one point of impact.
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