The old saying,"March comes in like a lion", seemed to prove true this month. Heavy rains, snow, hail, and overall blustery conditions have dominated the landscape all over our nation during the past few weeks. It would be very much appreciated if March would "go out like a lamb" as the saying goes. I hope you have been warm and safe within the walls of your communities and have found success in your teaching strategies.
In this month's edition of Brad's Beat, I will be sharing with you my process for introducing eight note handbells to beginning ringers of all ages.
I first started using the colorful RB108 bell sets as a harmonic teaching tool in my primary classes, introducing I, IV, and V7 chords. The bell sets offered a visual and auditory tool for concept development. While using the RB108 sets, I was able to assemble large groups of players into chord groups and teach them to successfully perform chordal accompaniments by shaking their assigned bells at the appropriate time. I began to experiment with ways to encourage ringers to play their parts and found that a combination of visual cues with teacher prompting worked best in my situation.
During a student performance at a retirement center, I found that the adults in the audience were fascinated by the bells and wanted a chance to ring along. As I developed activities to include beginning adult players, I found that they often responded positively when melodies were the focal point of the bell experience. My older elementary players also seemed more interested in playing melodies than the harmonic accompaniments I had been using with my younger students. During this period, I focused my arranging on melody and variation parts that could be played by groups with varied levels of music experience. I published nine collections of bell arrangements with Sweet Pipes Inc. between 2000-2008 that utilized the melody variation style. Three of the most popular titles from the Sweet Pipes Series are "Hymns for Eight Note Handbells" (SP2373), "Christmas Bells" (SP2388), and "Primary Bells" (SP2395). You can check these and my other bell publication titles out on page 22 of our current Rhythm Band Instruments' catalog.
In late 2008, I was asked by an activities director who worked with dementia clients to create some activities that would help her residents interact with music using eight note bell sets. My bell set of choice during this period was the RB107 eight note combination set. The RB107 sets have a spring-driven tapping mechanism on top of the bell handle that allows the bells to be rung either by tapping or swinging. Both older and younger players are often more successful in performing complex rhythmic parts when tapping rather than swinging the bells. During this time, I published "Bells Alive-Volume 1" (BB220). This animated teaching tool was sequentially created to encourage concept development during bell ringing experiences. I had observed that my elementary players learned at an accelerated rate when experiencing instruction using animated material, and I reasoned that adults would respond similarly. My first adult presentation was to a group in the Boston area. Seeing the spark of remembrance in the eyes of elder players as they interacted with familiar melodies added joy to the moment. We did not always play the exact notes at the prescribed times, but we sang and played with enthusiasm, relishing in the community-building power of music performance.
The activities in "Bells Alive Volume 1" include a scale song with a familiar melodic pattern, a chord playing experience using the Beethoven "Ode to Joy" melody, a descant with tempo increases to accompany "Bell Chops" (a variation of the "Chop Sticks" melody), and a melody-descant combination performed to Pachelbel's Canon. Each activity can be mastered by a beginning player with no previous music experience. I created "Bells Alive Volume 2" and "Bells Alive Christmas" to round out this beginning players' series. The Bells Alive series is presented as a "pre-reading" set of arrangements. There is no prerequisite music experience required to interact successfully with the activities presented on the DVD which is formatted to be projected from standard DVD players or viewed by a computer-based media player. Ringers receive visual cues for playing their notes by color and staff location. Rhythms to be played are presented aurally. Bells appear visually in sync with audio accompaniments, encouraging players to respond by ringing at the appropriate time. Professional music teachers can use the animations to develop concept mastery in their classrooms. Group leaders with limited music backgrounds can confidently lead bell players by utilizing the complete playing instruction provided with each arrangement.
A very brief video review for the "Bells Alive" series is presented below.
When players have mastered the arrangements presented in the BELLS ALIVE series, they are ready to move on to the notation driven animations found in "Favorite Tunes for Eight Note Handbells" (BB227) and "Faithful Tunes for Eight Note Handbells" (BB229). I will demonstrate the higher level notation concepts explored in these two titles in next month's "Brad's Beat".
That's "Brad's Beat" for April, 2016. I do hope you develop a slight case of spring fever this month. Take a few minutes to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you! Don't hesitate to call on RBI for support as you continue your important efforts teaching music to the children of our nation. We share your passion for helping the children of the world learn to express themselves through their experiences with music!
President, BLB Studios
Elementary Music Specialist, Rhythm Band Instruments