How to Start Your Own Special Needs Handbell Choir
In the United States there are several successful special need handbell choirs.  Those
that I am acquainted with include the following:

(1) The
Woodson Handbell Choir, organized in the special education department of
the Abilene, Texas, public schools.  This choir has developed a high degree of expertise
in performance through a very well organized program.  They rehearse five days each
week during the school year.  Their performing choir uses only the highest functioning
individuals.  They all have good motor skills, good visual skills, and good skills in the
area of attention to task.  The choir reads from roll charts that utilize color-coded letters.  
All cues for playing are received from one director.  Occasionally they use taped  

(2) The
Perkins Handbell Ensemble, organized in the Perkins School for the Blind in
Watertown, Massachusetts - where handbells are an integral part of the curriculum.  The
choir is composed of persons functioning at different levels.  They learn their individual
parts by rote.  The choir is sometimes accompanied by piano or by harp.

(3) The
Joy Bells, organized in a special school in Pennsylvania.  This choir uses a
very select group of ringers (8 to 10) who receive direct cues from two directors.  If one
of these two directors is not available, the choir cannot perform.  I don't think this choir
uses any accompaniment.

(4) The
Bayou Bell Ringers, organized as a non-profit corporation in Cut Off,
Louisiana.  They involve ringers at all functioning levels - including visual impairment,
hearing impairment, physical disabilities, and lower cognitive ability.  They receive
ringing instructions from a single director who provides modified Kodaly hand signals as
cues.  They use synthesizer accompaniment on many of their selections.

(5) The
Denton Bell Band, organized as a non-profit corporation in Denton, Texas,
involves ringers at all levels of cognitive ability.  At the moment we have no one with
severe physical disabilities.  Ringers receive instructions from three directors - the first
uses a roll chart with cardinal numbers for handbells B4 through G6, the second uses
direct cueing for handbells C4 through Bb5, and the third cues persons holding two
chimes that represent chords in the arrangements.  In the past we have involved
persons with severe hearing and visual impairments and one or two with severe physical
  The online booklet mentioned below contains information about the methods
of the
Woodson Handbell Choir, the Perkins Handbell Ensemble,  the Bayou
Bell Ringers
, and the Denton Bell Band.  It contains a description of several
methods that have been used by directors of special needs choirs.
I do not have information about the method used by
Joy Bells.  
           A click on the title below will take you to my booklet entitled Handbells
and Hand-Held Chimes in Music Therapy and Music Education
It is based upon my experience of over forty years in the field of music
therapy.  If the information presented needs further explanation, please contact
me at your convenience.  My e-mail address is: