As you stand in front of your ensemble while they are ringing, have you ever

noticed facial grimaces, even when the right note has been played? Do members of

your ensemble sit down somewhere while you are working with another section at

the table? Do you notice that some of your ringers have difficulty moving the bell

easily while ringing, even when encouraged? Are there times when a ringer just

can’t get the effect that you want with the bell? Do your ringers ever actually tell

you that they are experiencing soreness or pain, making it harder for them to ring?

Do you have members in your group who have arthritis, tendonitis, or low back



The reason for these questions is to increase your awareness of the potential

physical impact of ringing on the people you lead. Often ringing is not the root

cause of the problems your ringers may be experiencing. They bring the impact of

everyday physical activity with them each time they come to the table. It is your

job as the Director to be ever mindful of that fact, and to increase the ringers’

awareness of this as well. It is important to nurture their ability to take care of

themselves and remedy or avoid difficulty. Keep in mind this also applies to your

wellbeing. Everyone engages in repetitive motion activities throughout the day,

from work related use of the computer to cleaning, home maintenance, and leisure

activities, including ringing or directing. Ringing may just be the “straw that

breaks the camel’s back”.


If a ringer is experiencing discomfort, there are several things you can do, in

collaboration with the individual, to help determine how best, first to alleviate, and

then to prevent the problem from recurring. No matter the complaint, it is

important to ask the ringer if this is a new problem, or have they experienced

similar discomfort in the past. Find out if they have ever been treated for this type

of pain by a health care professional. If this is a new complaint, is the discomfort

mild or excruciating, or somewhere in between? Do they know if they injured

themselves in this area recently?


Initially, ringers experiencing new or mild symptoms, with no known injury should

be encouraged to play only if ringing does not aggravate their symptoms. If ringing

makes things worse, then they should take a break from ringing and/or seek

medical advice. Sometimes rest, use of an over-the-counter pain reliever and/or

icing or heat applications are sufficient. Once symptoms are under control then it

may be sufficient to suggest that the ringers engage in some mild stretching

exercises, to stretch tight muscles and warm up their body for the task at hand.

These exercises can also enhance general relaxation. Their use should be

encouraged both before and after every ringing experience.


The person’s method of ringing should be assessed. Are they holding the bell

properly? Is their grip on the bell relaxed? Are they keeping their wrists relaxed

and aligned? Do they use arm, rather than wrist movement to extract sound? Do

they appear tense? Do they stand with their feet apart and knees slightly bent? Do

they move to the bell, rather than reach for the bell? Improper ringing technique

should be addressed immediately. Proper grip of the bell, correct wrist alignment

and the use of arm, rather than wrist movement to produce sound, can be taught,

reviewed, or practiced as necessary. Wristbands (wrist supports) can improve a

ringer’s awareness of wrist position. Their purpose is to provide information to the

brain about wrist position and movement (proprioceptive awareness) thus helping

in the development and maintenance of proper ringing technique. They should be

worn tight enough to prevent slipping, but loose enough that awareness of them is

minimal after a few minutes. If they are too tight they can actually exacerbate the

problem. Conditioning exercises can be used to strengthen the wrist and arm so

that ringing properly becomes more spontaneous. Back exercises can be used to

help improve standing posture and alleviate low back pain. Proper body mechanics

can also be taught to help avoid low back pain or discomfort between the shoulder

blades. Establishing a gentle stretching and strengthening exercise routine for the

entire ensemble that can be used every time ringers come to the table is worth the

few minutes it takes to reinforce the entire group’s readiness to ring.


If the ringer’s discomfort is severe due to an acute injury, or it is the result of a

chronic injury, condition or disability, the approach used to address it would be

very different. If there has been an acute injury or the pain is severe, the ringer

should not be allowed to ring until they have either sought medical attention or

used appropriate first aid measures until the injury resolves. Following such an

episode, the individual should be encouraged to use the exercises and proper

ringing technique described above. If the discomfort is a recurrence of symptoms

from a previous injury, or the result of a chronic condition such as arthritis, carpal

tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis, for which the ringer has previously received

medical attention, it would be appropriate to ask the individual to seek the advice

of their health care provider. It may be helpful or necessary to resume the exercises

or treatment used previously to address the issue. It will still be important, once the

person resumes ringing, to use conditioning and warm up exercises, good body mechanics,

and appropriate supportive devices such as wrist or tendonitis bands. A

health care provider may also have helpful recommendations for accommodations

to make ringing possible.


Careful consideration of bell assignments can help reduce or prevent injury. It will

be important for ringers to be truthful about how they feel, physically, with any bell

assignment. For example: If the individual has arthritis, the weight of the bell, or

the size of the grip required may affect ringing comfort. Individuals who have

experienced bursitis or tendonitis of the shoulder or elbow may need to limit the

time they spend playing bass bells. Ringers of short stature may also find it

uncomfortable playing bass bells all the time. Those with small hands may have

difficulty playing bass bells or ringing four-in-hand. Varying bell assignments,

from piece to piece, may reduce strain on the body while improving the versatility

and musicality of the group.


Bell ringing is an artful sport. Our bodies are part of the instrument. The Director

and ringer share in the responsibility for being in the best physical condition

possible when playing. It is worth the effort, with dividends in quality, musicality,

and enjoyment of this art form.


–Nancy G. Reynolds, Vermont Ringer, Retired Physical Therapist