History of HandChimes and Difference from HandBells?(1)

Origination of HandChimes

The handchime instrument was developed relatively recently (20th Century). Because handchimes are a relatively new performing instrument, new possibilities for their performance expressiveness are being developed each year. It is an interesting evolution to watch.

There is an interesting parallel between why handbells were previously developed, and why handchimes were more recently developed. Both were originally developed as educational tools, with neither originally used for performance.

Manufacturing Differences

To achieve the desired cheaper, easier to maintain, more tolerant of being dropped, easier for young hands characteristics, handchimes are made using a very different manufacturing process, and from a very different material than handbells. In the case of handbells:

In the case of handchimes:

The handchime instrument created by this very different manufacturing process meets all the requirements set forth by the music educators!

Embraced by Other Than 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:

Playing Safety

There are some limitations caused because handchimes are largely made out of aluminum. They are more prone to metal fatigue than the handbell made out of bronze. When rung loudly too much, a tine of the handchime can crack. Playing short, repeated notes on bass chimes will weaken the tines, and vigorous shaking on treble handchimes will weaken the tines. Cracking a tine functionally alters the effective length of the vibrating tine, which permanently distorts the pitch. This essentially causes it to lose its tuning and it becomes unplayable.


Difference in Sound

Because of the shape of the instrument (it is basically a large tuning fork), and the material of which it is made, primarily aluminum, handchimes produce a purer fundamental tone than that of the handbell – meaning there are fewer overtones present.

(The bass alumuminum handbells from Malmark similarly produce a purer fundamental tone than the Bronze handbells.)

Additionally, the quality of the sound produced by handchimes 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, narrow concept of just an educational training tool for teaching handbell ringing. Some refer to the sound of the handchime as being Ethereal.

Role as A Performance Instrument

It quickly became obvious handchimes were 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. As a result, directors of handbell choirs have come to appreciate the role the unique sound qualities of handchimes can play in performance. It is now fairly common for handbell choirs to also own a set of handchimes. They may be used in combination with the handbells, or separately. The handchime as a performance instrument has gained considerably in popularity.

Of particular interst to this website, the timbre of handchime's sound blends much better with the human voice than does the handbell, making handchimes much more of a “natural” for accompanying voices.

Differences in Playing Techniques

Accoustical Differences

In some room spaces, just as the sound of an aluminim bass bell will carry better than the bronze bass bells, the sound from handchimes will carry better than from handbells. Experiment in your room space to see. You can use handchimes to play the melody while bells accompany or vice–versa. If your space absorbs low sounds, consider doubling the bass bronze bells with bass handchimes.

Performance Examples -- None include bass handchimes

A marvelous example on YouTube of a more advanced group of handchimers illustrates various of the above damping techniques used for expression: "Let It Go" (Version arranged by Kevin McChesney)

Two examples on YouTube of less advanced handchimers that do not use damping techniques include:

The well known traditional hymn Amazing Grace (which shows a couple players using 4-in-hand playing technique) - Amazing Grace; and

The well known secular song Edelweiss - Edelweiss.


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 Extrusion (writeup), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extrusion

3 Extrusion (videos), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76NcaTxFdE8 Other videos on extrusion which provide other perspectives include:

4 (Further definition of what is a Handchime) https://www.lorenz.com/Files/Files/Lorenz/Products/Sample_Pages/AG015.pdf

5 The Orff Approach to Music Education for Children, Espie Estrella, Updated January 24, 2019, https://www.liveabout.com/the-orff-approach-2456422

6 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:

7 An examples of a number with an extreme amount of Martellato Handbell playing technique, YouTube

8 Stopped Sounds on Handchimes


If you wish to comment on contents of this webpage, Clicking the button below will both transfer you to the Contact/Comment page, and pass along that you were on this webpage when you decided to comment.

This is the Interim URL for this New Website.
We continue adding and revising pages before migrating to the original .com URL


© 2000-2024 TortoiseClimbing™

Designed and Implemented by

TortoiseClimbing Webservices™

Website last updated 5/10/2024

Hosted by A2 Hosting, Inc.

   current testing 2


Use of this website signifies your agreement to the
Website Terms and Conditions.