I’m a HUGE advocate of using handbells in primary during singing time! They provide tons of movement, repetition and FUN when singing and reviewing primary songs! There are several types, qualities and companies that sell handbells and here’s what I use and HIGHLY recommend getting for your primary!
There’s a new handbell company on the market – Merry Bells. They are my favorite when it comes to quality, price and the fact that you are supporting a member of the church! Merry Bells is unique in that you can purchase DVD’s that contain digital note charts so kids can play along with all types of songs – Christmas, children’s, patriotic and NOW primary!! The handbell set includes the Christmas DVD already! All the songs on the DVD’s can be played with the basic!
I HIGHLY recommend purchasing their 8-Note Handbell set HERE (which contains the basic 8-note set only) before you purchase any additional handbells! Camille’s Primary Ideas readers can also get 10% off by using coupon code cpi10off at checkout!! (I do receive a small commission from sales but I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t LOVE this product!).
The only difference with Merry Bells vs. the Kidsplay Basic note set is the white handbell you can see pictured above. The Kidsplay brand has 2 red bells which are the C octaves. Merry Bells has simply differentiated between the 2 C octaves with a red and white note where Kidsplay notes do not.
If you want more information on Merry Bells, check out my post HERE.
So once you have your basic set from Merry Bells (and maybe a few DVD’s) and you want to expand your set, I’d recommend going with the Kidsplay/Rhythm Band brand. (UPDATE: They may be changing their name to Rhythm Band but the product appears to be unchanged).
*Please note that all the links below are affiliate links and I make a small commission if you purchase but again I HIGHLY recommend them!
Here’s the basic 8-note set which includes the red box pictured above that is the essentially the same product as the Merry Bells handbells set I’ve referenced above:
This is the 13-note set which includes the red & yellow box pictured above:
If you purchase the Merry Bells basic set, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the 5-note add-on set (the yellow box only). Almost all of my note charts will require you to have these notes in addition to the basic set:
This is the extended note set which will extend your set further (the orange box), a great way to get more kids playing the bells, but not necessary (you can use the extended note set as an option with all my charts). I’d recommend getting these eventually:
Then this is the 20-note case that our primary needs to get!:
I pull out the handbells several times a year. I also use them in Sacrament Meeting when we sing for the holidays and occasionally for our Primary Program (you should get permission from your Bishop). The kids absolutely LOVE them and we can sing a song a million times over and never get tired of it when we use the bells.
My favorite way to use them is when any song has an obligato or descant part (see I am a Child of God p. 2, Beautiful Savior verse 3 on p. 63, Every Star is Different p. 142 in the Children’s Songbook if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Descant: A descant is an optional voice part with words of its own. It is possible to play a descant as an instrumental part. (See “Hosanna,” p. 66.)
Obbligato: An obligato is an optional instrumental part above the melody. Sometimes the part is in a range suitable for voice using the same words as the melody. (See “Keep the Commandments,” p. 146).
If you know how to use chording, similar to how you play a guitar, that is also a fun way to use them. I’ve done chording with the chorus of Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus and it was super fun! You can see that note chart HERE. For more information on chords and chording, I have a post HERE with more details.
Feel free to scroll through all my lesson plans that incorporate handbells HERE.
Now, before I teach the bell portion, I first make sure I KNOW the song in and out, especially the descant or obligato part. If I’m lost, the rest of the primary will be too. I play it over and over again on the piano, listen to it on the CD, etc.
After I know the song in and out, I prepare note charts. You can find examples of ones I’ve done HERE and HERE and HERE.
If you’ll notice, on Christmas Bells (the first link) there are small black lines in the lower righthand corner of each note-box. That’s my counting. For that song, one line means one count for that particular note. A half line, means half of a count, 3 lines would mean 3 counts, etc.
Other songs have such simple counting (like Every Star is Different where each note gets one count) so I don’t need the counting. I’ve also tried to incorporate the words that correlate to the bell to be played to make it less confusing.
I print out the charts on card stock, and slip them into plastic cover sheets. I love that these store so well. I’ve also posted a Make-Your-Own-Handbell-Chart HERE if you need something customized or if you prefer to put everything on a big poster, etc.
Then in Primary I put my charts on the chalkboard using magnets and I have my trusty wooden dowel that I use as my pointer. To use them for performing, I tape them together top to bottom, then tape that to the back of the music stand so it faces the kids.
Before I pass out the bells to the kids, I go over our handbell rules:
I would love it if you would like the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel so I know you find it useful and want more like it.
You don’t touch the color bell portion or the middle bell ringer part (I know, I’m real technical with my terms, right?). You only touch the handle.
You only ring your bell when I point to your color on the note chart. If you ring it any other time, you may forfeit your chance to play the bells.
When you are not ringing your bell, you hold it against your chest.
Only good singers will get to be bell ringers so SING.
I have found it best to post words to the songs. The bells will take over and soon you’ll have no one singing so post the words. Find how I post words HERE. Then I like to have someone else lead the singing while I handle the bells. Usually a presidency member or teacher jumps up to help me.
To distribute the bells, I’ve found it the easiest to start on the front row, every other person (or every 3 depending on the primary size and number of bells you are using), and just have the kids stay in their seats.
To rotate, everyone passes their bell to person next to them. This way, everyone will eventually get to play each different color and you aren’t shuffling bells all over the room. The last child at the back of the room brings their bell to the front row.
Bell ringers are not expected to sing but the non-bell ringers are. Non-bell ringers not singing, will remain as such! 😉
So once you have your notes posted on the chalkboard, the words posted, your assistant, and your bells distributed, you are ready to go. Pull out your wooden dowel and play however you like. Sometimes just the bells will play, sometimes just the kids will sing. Sometimes we’ll play and sing together with or without the piano. Mix it up. The variety is endless.
I have a few demonstration videos that I’ve done for A Child’s PrayerHERE and another one for I Am a Child of GodHERE. Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel HERE so you never miss any videos!
Our primary frequently performs in sacrament meeting using the handbells. My bishop has given me permission to do so and the congregation LOVES them!
Before the meeting begins, I place only the handbells to be used up near the piano, behind the modesty wall (is that what it’s called?) in a line. My pre-chosen bell choir has all been assigned a color so they know that they are to go stand behind their assigned bell, pick it up and not ring it until the appointed time.
My bell choir usually consists of the 2nd to oldest class. This way, everyone will eventually get a turn to play them in sacrament meeting. Then I have another adult help lead the singers so I can focus on the bells.
If you haven’t tried out the handbells, seriously, hit up your Primary President for a little budget money to purchase a set for your primary. They won’t go unused and it will definitely be money well spent!!
If there’s not enough budget money, see if the other 2 primaries that share your building would go in and purchase a set for all 3 primaries in the building to share. Then just keep the set in the library where they must be checked out and returned after each use.
Handbells may be out of your budget. If so, I’d recommend a set of chimes! You can get instructions to make your own or buy them. Find some more information on chimes HERE.
Leave any comments for additional ideas on using the bells or what you’ve found to work for you!