Today’s topic is practicing handbells, since we are traveling to a festival in Redding, California, soon. Because most bell ringers don’t have their own set of bells at their disposal to practice on, practicing is not something that is talked about commonly in the bell world. In order to practice for a festival before arriving, we came up with 5 pointers that should help a first time festival participant understand how to approach their music.
Step 1: Get a paper copy of your music. Although it may seem obvious, having a paper copy of your music allows you to mark and understand the piece thoroughly before you leave. Also, you can then take your copy with all your notes to the rehearsal at the festival.
Step 2: Find a recording of the piece, and listen to it multiple times. The goal here is the ingrain the melody of the piece into your memory, so as you start to work through the technical difficulties of the piece you have some sort of reference in your head.
Step 3: Look at your music while listening to the piece. This allows you to understand how your part fits in with the rest of the choir, and to find the difficult bell techniques that are due to tempo.
Step 4: Mark EVERYTHING in your music. We always like to over mark everything in music that we are basically sight reading at a festival. This includes:
- Bell changes
- Accidentals (even those in the key signature)
- Rhythm counts on tricky rhythms
- Questions you have for the conductor
It may seem silly to mark all these things that you normally wouldn’t in your home ensemble, but the goal is to be able to get all of your bells in the right spots perfectly on the first try at the festival. Also, the last thing you want to do when time is limited is play A flat instead of A natural after a key change.
Step 5: Pantomime tricky passages. By acting out bell changes and rhythms you are teaching your muscle memory what the piece will feel like, so when you get to the rehearsal you can focus on how the music sounds and not how to get the next bell change in. If you don’t like to pantomime without something in your hands, then we suggest you try using plastic or glass bottles.
Hopefully these five tips will help you then next time you attend a conference or festival. By taking the time to work through these five steps, you will have the confidence you need to try playing in the conference choirs or other auditioned groups that usually occur at bell gatherings across the nation.