Learning to ring involves learning and developing two types of skills:
- the motor skill of learning how to control a tower bell.
- the learning skill of change ringing: the ‘music’ that is rung on bells.
The speed at which these very different skills are mastered varies significantly from ringer to ringer and is no reflection of what a ringer is ultimately capable of ringing. Both skills need to be mastered in order for someone to be truly acknowledged as a bell ringer.
There is an interaction between learning these skills, so that a learner may be able to handle a bell confidently when there is not much else to think about, but when the added mental effort of change ringing is added in, their handling becomes erratic. The answer to this is PRACTICE!
The foundation skills include the motor skill of learning how to control a tower bell, generally referred to as bell handling. Ringing is taught by other ringers and ringing a bell in a tower is the only way to learn how to handle a bell. It can take a while to feel comfortable about controlling a bell, but once you have mastered it, it is like riding a bicycle, you need never have to think about it again. Once you have learnt to handle the bell, you will learn how to ring it in time with other bells by ringing rounds and then call changes. Finally you’ll be taught how to move the position of your bell relative to the others without being told what to do. Accurate plain hunting is the final skill you need to master before you can start method ringing.
Learning to ring changes on bells is the intellectual side of bell ringing. At the beginning it can seem impossible; you are concentrating so hard on controlling your bell that there appears to be no brain capacity left for thinking about changes. You learn change ringing by ringing with others and it will require lots of practice. However you can help yourself by:
- learning what you are going to ring beforehand.
- watching other people ringing what you are learning.
- using software tools and simulators to test your learning.
Change ringing can be simple or very complicated depending on your ability and how far you wish to push yourself.
Experienced ringers can learn how to conduct changes – effectively they are telling all the other members of the band how to vary or extend the change ringing using a set of universally understood, brief instructions. Conducting adds another dimension to ringing, not only does a conductor have to think about handling their bell (although this is usually automatic by this stage) and ringing the method correctly but they also need to know when to make a call and usually have a responsibility to keep ringers in the band right. It is not for everyone! However a conductor in the band makes change ringing a lot more interesting for the rest of the band.