Ringing with others


Handbells are rung in pairs:

  • The lightest pair of bells (1 and 2) are paired. These are known as the trebles.
  • The 3 and 4 are paired.
  • The heaviest two bells are paired (5 and 6). These are known as the tenors.

You will start off by ringing rounds – in which all the bells ring in sequence from lightest to heaviest – 1 2 3 4 5 6 – with a one-beat gap left at the hand (or up) stroke, known as the open handstroke lead.

Practise ringing rounds on all three pairs until you can ring at a good speed and rhythm with an open handstroke lead. You will learn how to anticipate when to ring – if you wait until the bell before you has sounded you will be too late (or slow).


Once you can ring rhythmic rounds you need to learn how to ring your bells in a different order and feel comfortable ringing both the left and the right hand first. One person, usually the most experienced or most confident will tell you when to make these changes, but why not have a go yourself – talking whilst you can ring is something you have to practise.

Start with each pair swapping on command to get used to ringing with the left hand in front of the right – 2 1 4 3 6 5. When you've got the hang of that, escalate this exercise so that handstrokes are rung one way and backstrokes the other.

Swap internal pairs (i.e. 2-3 and 4-5) to practise ringing with one bell between your pair – 1 3 2 5 4 6. Combine this with the initial swap to have the bells separated the other way round.

There are lots of other short exercises, including ringing tunes, that will help you learn how to move your bell and still ring rhythmically.

Kaleidoscope places

Call changes and jump changes are remarkably difficult to ring on handbells and although this might be the logical next step on tower bells, it's not on handbells. Instead try ringing kaleidoscope places (two blows - one at handstroke and one at backstroke) or kaleidoscope dodges (change each stroke).

» Teaching Kaleidoscope ringing

Counting your place

Start by counting the whole row as a baseline. Don't stop when you get to your own bell but continue to count the bells in the row until the end of the change. You many need to start by counting aloud but can then drop actually saying the numbers as you get more proficient. Some people start by not looking and simply counting, but try to start looking at the other bells as soon as can.

Remember that ‘seven’ has two syllables and therefore ringing on eight bells can be a real step up.

Rounds on six bells

Whilst watching the video, note the one beat gap at handstroke, which is known as the handstroke gap or lead.