The HandChime instrument was developed relatively recently (20th Century). Because HandChimes are a relatively new instrument, new possibilities for their use are being developed each year. It is an interesting evolution to watch.
Initially it was developed as an educational tool. (All the companies presently manufacturing HandChimes say their HandChime instruments were developed at the request of music educators.)
Numerous music educators recognized the potential of HandBell choirs for their students. However, they needed an instrument that was less expensive, required less equipment, and was easier for young hands to manipulate than the expensive, and heavy bass HandBells. The newly created HandChimes address these needs.
To achieve the desired cheaper, easier to maintain, easier for young hands characteristics, HandChimes are made via a very different process and different materials than HandBells. HandBells 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. Various other processes attach the handle, internally mount the clapper mechanism, etc.
In contrast, HandChimes are a metal tube, most commonly an aluminum extrusion, with a slot 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 determines the fundamental pitch, which is the dominant tonal element.
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). The clapper mechanism is externally mounted and strikes the tube at a predetermined point to produce the desired pitched tone.(2)
The HandChime instrument created by this very different manufacturing process fits all of the requirements set forth by the music educators!
In addition to regular music classroom educators who had requested such a new product, HandChimes were also welcomed by:
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:
Because HandChimes are largely made out of aluminum, they are more prone to metal fatigue than the HandBell. When rung loudly too much, a tine of the chime can crack. Playing short, repeated notes on bass chimes will weaken the tines, and shaking on treble handchimes will weaken the tines. Cracking alters the vibrating tine's length, which permanently distorts the pitch. This essentially causes it to lose its tuning and become unplayable.
Because of the shape of the instrument (it is basically a large tuning fork), and the material of which it is made, primarily aluminum, produces a purer tone than that of the handbell – meaning there are fewer overtones present.
(The bass alumuminum HandBells from Malmark similarly produce a purer tone than the Bronze HandBells.)
Additionally, the quality of the sound produced 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 intention of just an educational training tool for teaching HandBell ringing. Some refer to the sound of the HandChime as being Ethereal.
As HandChime ensembles gained in popularity, directors of HandBell choirs began to appreciate the role the unique sound qualities of the HandChime instrument could play in performance. 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. The timbre of HandChime's sound blends well with the human voice, making them a “natural” for accompanying voices.
In some room spaces, the sound from HandChimes will carry better than from HandBells. Experiment in your room space to see. You can use chimes to play the melody while bells accompany or vice–versa. If your space absorbs low sounds, consider doubling the bass bells with bass chimes.
An example of HandChimes on YouTube: "Let It Go" (Version arranged by Kevin McChesney)
(If you examine the playing you can see illustrations of various of the above damping techniques used for expression.)
1 Adapted and augmented from article written by Venita MacGorman, Education Chair, Area IX, Handbell Musicians of America, (no date) http://area9.handbellmusicians.org/about-those-chimes/"
2 (Further definition of what is a HandChime) https://www.lorenz.com/Files/Files/Lorenz/Products/Sample_Pages/AG015.pdf
3 The Orff Approach to Music Education for Children, Espie Estrella, Updated January 24, 2019, https://www.liveabout.com/the-orff-approach-2456422
4 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:
Handbell Technique Tip - Proper Martellato, by Martha Alford
5 Examples of Maretellato HandBell playing technique, YouTube
6 Technique Tip - Stopped Sounds on Handchimes, Malmark