Our handbell choir is playing a piece with a few bass notes going lower than our lowest bell. No one wants to spend money on buying a couple more bells, if most of the time we play music which doesn't call for those notes.

What is a good inexpensive substitute that will let the bass line be complete without being annoying or distracting to the audience? Where it makes musical sense, some of the bass notes for which we do have bells could be substituted too.

  • 2
    What is the range of the bells that your church has? How many octaves?
    – user1044
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 2:01

4 Answers 4

  1. Play the out-of-range bassline notes an octave higher, or otherwise rewrite the line to use the bells you actually possess.

  2. Borrow a set of tubular bells from a local orchestra or brass band.

  3. Make your own tubular bells at the appropriate pitch using scaffolding pipe.

  • 5
    Note that octave-transposing is not so uncritical in something like hand bells as it is with string or wind instruments. Bells don't have a simple harmonic (integer-ratio) overtone series. Some of their overtones are actually quite dissonant to the ones an octave up or down. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 17:54
  • 1
    Making chimes from easily obtained hardware would be great! It would add something custom, unique, to the group.
    – DarenW
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 3:41

There are any number of electronic keyboards, or better yet sample libraries or virtual instruments for PC or Mac (such as the Native Instruments Kontakt environment), which provide the sounds of handbells, tubular bells, carillon bells, or celesta. I'm sure that some digital church organs have these sounds as well.

Here's a computer-based sample library set of handbells with a 5-octave range, the NoiseFirm Handbells. It costs only US$50, but it is designed to work with the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt, whose base price is US$400. (and you need a suitable Mac or PC to run it on, equipped with an audio interface and hooked up to a suitable amplifier and speakers, and of course the musician with the MIDI controller keyboard to play the notes.)

You probably know a church musician who already owns and uses Native Instruments Kontakt and has all the necessary equipment, so it might be cost-effective for your church music department to make a $50 investment in this or another brand of add-on sample library for use by that musician.


I've also found a link to the Bolder Sounds Handbells V2, which appears to offer 6 octaves and far more articulations than the NoiseFirm library, for US $129. It also requires Native Instruments Kontakt.

I have no direct experience with these and could not recommend one over the other.


If you're willing to sacrifice a bit of tonal purity, and abandon bells for the lowest notes, it wouldn't be a terrible crime to have a pianist play just the bass line -- use what you have available.

If you do this, I would recommend using the soft (una corda) pedal, and have the pianist focus on blending the tone (in terms of articulation and dynamics). For the sake of continuity, I would also recommend the pianist play the entire bass line (not just the parts that fall outside the range of the bells) even if that results in doubling the notes that you do have bells for.

If there are multiple notes lower than the bell choir that are sounding simultaneously, I would check the arrangement to see if you can leave out all but the lowest. They will likely be doubling a higher part, to fill out the chord structure and can be safely omitted. There may be exceptions to this though, where the pianist would need to play more than a single bass note: such as if the parts are not doubled, or if they are part of a low counter melody. Use your musical judgement.


Does one of the players own a synth keyboard? The old Yamaha FM synths (DX7 etc.) were pretty good at bell sounds.

  • 1
    I have a Roland XP50. But I don't think mixing acoustic and electronic will work out for our situation. Could be a fine solution for other choirs, though.
    – DarenW
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 3:42

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