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    8 note colored handbells
    By Gene Maxwell

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    Hi Bonnie,
    I first saw the 8 note colored handbells used at an annual homeschool end of year get together and was completely taken with the children. I actually had tears in my eyes as I watched them perform a medley of children's worship tunes. Two of my own children had just learned to play them 10 minutes before they performed the song. The woman who was leading them had very little musical training or ability. Yet she was able to keep several hundred children and parents captivated as the song played out. I was hooked, got the name and telephone number of the company that sold the bells and music and immediatley sent away for 4 sets of bells and 4 songs. Interestingly enough the company is located in Texas, you can also find them on the internet under kristal bell method. Not sure what the actual web address is but it isn't too difficult to locate. The cost is $25/song and you get the cards which are high quality as well as an accompaniment tape.

    I would purchase the bells i.e. chromatic and add-ons from a company called RBI or Rythm Band Instruments. They may be the only one who sells the chromatics and add-ons. They are really great folks to talk to and their prices are reasonable. They come to about $5 per bell when you buy them in a complete set.

    If you have read my postings you already know that I work with a Pre K group of 23 children and that is like a circus. But we have so much fun. They have to wear name tags because I'm so terrible at remembering names. The music I use comes from the Kristal Bell Method group but you can actually make your own cards. Working with 4-6 year olds seems to work better with the individual cards rather than the "song sheets" or "song boards." The cards are about 5" X 9" with colored ovals representing the bell colors on one side and numbers on the back which indicate how long that particular chord is to be held. You could actually make your own cards and use a piano accompaniment which you could record on a cassette tape. The colored ovals on the cards would represent the 3 or 4 note chords for the song you are playing. Of course it would have to be in the key of C. At least until you get chromatic bells.

    The easiest way though is to get in touch with the Kristal Bell Method company. The school I teach at (Southport Christan School) just ordered 6 new Christmas songs from them for my Pre K and K classes. We plan on putting together a Christmas program for the whole school and our part will be to play several of these songs. We will also go to several nursing homes in Southport with the Kindergarten class. And may even put on a concert at the local Lowe's food store.

    One of the advantages of this method is that the children really don't need any previous musical experience, just eye to hand coordination and of course not be color blind. I would say that you could teach them to play in about 10 to 15 minutes and the adults would be thrilled to watch. It has been probably the most popular musical presentation I have ever seen.

    Then, when you get some add-ons and chromatic bells I can help you make your own arrangements, or you can use some of mine. Half the fun of this though is to create your own arrangments of the music that ministers to you and your audience.

    I use the "song boards" I make with the older children, from 1st thru 6th grades. These songs are much faster and more complicated. It actually becomes a challenge for the students to be able to keep up with the changes. We have a choir made up of 5th graders and we go to various outings, and churches in the area.

    If you look at Kim's posting you can see that with some enginuity you could make song sheets, or song boards of your own. Since you are a piano teacher you wouldn't have any trouble at all making your own arrangements using either your own recorded accompaniment or that of a favorite CD. One of my latest arrangements is to a Phillips Craig and Dean song "Let My Words Be Few" I like to take some of the top songs from K-Love and make arrangements.

    Since this method of making music is so simple and can be used with children as young as 4 years old and up, I am experimenting with how to actually teach music to these younger children using the bells and music,(I actually taught my youngest when she was 4 to read from the song boards and use a bell in each hand.) The key of course is tying the colors in with the notes. But teaching pitch, i.e. high and low tones can be made into games using the colored bells. I think the children can actually learn to associate the pitch of the notes with the note names with a little work. I think there are all kinds of possibilities in using the colored bells to teach music. And of course if you have the chromatic bells you can teach the concept of sharps and flats, on a very simple level of course.

    Keep in touch with me, if you want to e-mail me off line I can be reached at
    I usually check my mail several time each day. I am committed to using the colored bells to both teach music concepts of pitch and timing as well as teach the children to minister to others. The simplicity of the colored bell affords an opportunity for all children to be able to do this, the beauty of the music makes it enjoyable for all to listen to.

    My lates challenge is to teach the residents at a local nursing home to make music with the bells, and I could tell you some hilarious stories about how this is working out.

    Gene Maxwell

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