Handbell Technique Tip - Proper Martellato by Martha Alford


A stopped sound used to create more dramatic effects and excitement, martellato is a favorite of ringers and composers alike. If done improperly, however, it may damage your castings. Here is some advice to help ensure that your handbells will keep ringing for a long time.

The definition of martellato is "to hammer." On handbells, this produces a strong "pop" of staccato sound. The martellato technique should never be used on Choirchimes® as their aluminum tines can bend and crack.

To properly execute the martellato technique, the handbell should be held as one normally would, with the handguard resting on the hand and relaxed fingers wrapped around the handle. Then, move the handbell into a horizontal position no more than 2 to 3 inches above the table. Gently push the bell horizontally into the table pad. The handbell should remain in the pad until it is damped. This gentle strike will cause a strong, percussive sound which will be short due to the handbell remaining in contact with the foam.

The technique is notated by a ▼. The symbol will appear above or below a note head. Any notes stemmed to the primary note head should also be played martellato.


Dynamic contrasts are achieved through the amount of force used in striking the handbell on the padded table. When using the martellato technique, it is important to remember that varying dynamic levels can be achieved and are warranted. While the initial result may be loud, ringers should be encouraged to experiment with dynamic levels as directors should be discriminating in the overall balance of the sound with added stopped sounds.


If done improperly, the martellato technique may be damaging to handbell castings, especially the larger ones. There are a few safeguards that may be taken to ensure that no damage will be done:

  1. The martellato technique should not be used on handbells lower than G3. The longer sides on the larger handbells are more conducive to flexing when performing martellato. The weight of a heavier clapper increases the force and may cause the casting to crack. Substitute either the plucking technique or mallets while the handbell is resting on the table.
  2. Be sure that the handbell is lifted only 2 to 3 inches above the table before it is struck on the padded table. Raising the handbell higher than a few inches may cause a stronger impact than desired.
  3. Check your clapperhead settings. Do not mart while the clappers are set on hard! When a handbell is rung normally, the casting is free to vibrate, allowing the stress of striking the bell to be evenly dispersed. When performing any stopped sound, however, all of the kinetic energy is concentrated on the point of impact. Using the hardest clapperhead setting will dramatically increase the amount of stress from performing martellato, and may cause the casting to crack.
  4. Hold the entire handbell in a horizontal position over the padded table. This will help to ensure that the entire wall of the casting strikes the pad at once which disperses the force throughout the bell instead of concentrating on one point. Also, a strike on the lip may cause a crack where the bell may have already been nicked. Striking the handbell casting on the edge of a table pad is not recommended as the padding may slip out of position and the casting may strike the hard edge of a table.
  5. Be sure that your ensemble is equipped with foam pads that are ample in thickness. 4" regular density foam is strongly recommended.

When done properly, the martellato can be a safe and musical technique that ringers and audiences alike will enjoy!

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