Bell Instruments

These are very satisfying to make, usually much cheaper and often of better quality than one can buy. Basically they consist of good quality ‘cat’ or ‘jingle’ bells attached singly or in groups to some kind of handle. They can be bought in four different sizes from ^-inch to I f~inch and are finished in either chrome or a gold metal colour. The chrome bells are firmer and stronger and make a rather better noise than the others. I once spent a very noisy evening sorting out a gross of bells ready for students to use when it occurred to me to wonder why they should sound different. The bells themselves appeared identical in shape and size and the metal rattles inside looked to be of standard size and shape. It took a family effort to discover that the size of the slit in the top of the bell makes the difference – and this can be widened or closed by applying pressure at the sides of the bell. The gold bells are slightly softer and so easier to adjust in this way.

These consist of a length of ^-inch or 3-inch dowelling (six inches is a reasonable size for children to use) well sanded then polished, painted, or stained and polished. A pair of bells or single bell is attached to each end by screwing in a picture-hanging ring or the ring screws used with curtain-rod hooks. For the latter it will be necessary to buy small split rings to join the bell to the ring screw. These screws will go in quite easily if a small hole is made first with a fine bradawl or a large tapestry needle. It is a good idea to smear a very small amount of Araldite adhesive on the screw before putting it in the wood to make the fixing stronger.

These are large-size bells mounted on cotton reels. The cotton reel should be clean and dry. If the notch usually cut into the rim to hold the end of the cotton is sharp or rough it can be sanded down. The hollow centre of the reel should be filled with newspaper to within J-inch of each end. Use Isopon or a similar epoxy-resin mixed to a paste to fill both ends and smooth off the paste level with the base of each end. On the end which has the notch in add a small round pad of paste to that which is filling the hole and push the bell loop into it. The cotton reel can be placed bell-side-up in a segmented egg box until the paste has dried at both ends and the bell is firmly attached. Sandpaper the fiat end to remove any slight roughness and paint the cotton reel (primer and gloss paint for wooden ones, Humbrol enamel for plastic ones). If it is held by the bell the whole reel can be painted at once and left to dry, this time bell downwards in the egg box. A second coat of paint is usually necessary and certainly advisable.

Five or six small bells and three or four large ones are attached to a firm leather strap fixed to a dowelling handle to give a ‘ D ‘-shape. The leather must be firm or it will not keep its curved shape. Leather trouser belts are usually very satisfactory and are about the right width for this purpose. The size is not crucial but the handle should be wide enough to take an adult’s four fingers, sprays to be used by children only could be a little smaller. The diameter of the dowelling should be the same as the width of the leather and the leather should be long enough to make a curve which will not catch the knuck’es. A good standard size would be a 5-inch handle of jj-inch dowelling ana an 8-inch strip ot f-inch leather.

Sand and paint or polish the wood along its length leaving the ends smooth but bare. Hold the ends of the leather on to the handle and mark where the bells should be attached. Although the bell loops are round they are very thin and only need a slit to be pushed through (it is surprising how many people search desperately for a punch which will make a hole the same size as the bell loop). The slit can be made using the smallest hole on a punch and making several holes which touch each other to give the right length slit. Failing a leather punch a bradawl will serve die same purpose or even a narrow screwdriver although this is not really a good way to treat such tools. The slits should be across the strip of leather – not in line with its length.

Push each bell through and thread a length of wire of suitable strength and thickness (fairly thick florist’s wire is about right) through the loops, leaving about an each end to twist round the loop of the first and last bells. A pair of small round-nosed pliers is useful for this. The wire should be flush with the leather along its length and the ends should be carefully trimmed so that there are no sharp projections. To make a really neat job the inside of the leather strip can be lined with felt which will cover the wire but again slits have to be made in the felt to allow the bell loops through. Once the bells are fixed, the leather strap can be attached to the ends of the handle with a suitable adhesive – any of the wood glues works well. If a non-impact adhesive is used one may have to stand and hold the leather to the wood, or use a clamp or even nail it down (although this last is a less good idea as the nails could split the handle or perhaps work loose in time).

Three or four medium-sized bells may be attached to the head of a skipping-rope handle from which the rope has been removed, using the picture-hanging ring screws as for bell sticks.

Cow bells, temple bells or Indian bells like tiny cymbals can often be found in the shops which specialize in goods and trinkets from the East. All these bell instruments can be used as sound effects for story-telling, as listening games, can be left on the music table for children to experiment for themselves, or can be used by the adults and children during a music session as a progression from clapping hands and stamping feet.