The vital first stage of learning to ring is bell-handling, that is, how to pull the rope… sounds obvious, but it is non-trivial. There are two parts to the cycle of movements a bell and its rope and ringer make: handstroke and backstroke. The usual way of teaching bell handling has you starting with pulling off for just one of the strokes, with the teacher doing the rest, and then learning the other stroke, only at the end putting both strokes together. Another way to teach starts with the bell down, and gradually increasing the amount of movement until ringing with the bell fully up.
Good bell handling skills are essential; it is the core foundational skill of the exercise. The difficulty is knowing what ‘good’ actually looks like and how to correct any mistakes. A range of simple exercises which add fun to a practice whilst developing and practicing bell control are available to download. Why not have a look?
Having learned to handle the bell for a whole pull, the next thing to learn is to ring it in time with the other bells, which you’ll start by ringing rounds adjusting the speed of your ringing to fit into place between the other bells.
Rounds is the name of the change in which the bells ring after each other in sequence from the lightest bell (the treble) to the heaviest (the tenor.) On six bells this is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Musicians will recognise this as a portion of a descending scale.
Call changes require you to vary the bell’s speed in order to change places, one change at a time, swapping with one other bell as called by the conductor. You can concentrate on improving the physical skills needed to handle their bell without needing to worry about methods. Why not have some fun when ringing call changes and remember that learners can also be involved in the calling?
Some changes are considered particularly musical and often have special names.
Calls are made by the conductor with spoken commands such as “2 to 3” or “2 and 3” or “2 after 3”, in which 2 and 3 refer to two of the bells by their numbers (not by their positions in the row). As can be seen, there are several different ways of calling given change. By far the most common two are known as “calling up” and “calling down”. Generally any given tower will consistently use one system in preference to the other.
When learning to ring call changes, you’ll also learn to lead, that is, ring at the start of the change in first place. This is a skill in its own right requiring good bell control and visual & listening skills. The bell that is leading is responsible for setting the “open lead”, the slight pause at every handstroke lead. This pause or gap is usually described as “enough for another bell to fit in”. If you are the treble ringer you define this pause prior to change or method ringing. There are various teaching aids and exercises that allow leading to be mastered, which can be more helpful (and definitely more interesting) than ringing rounds on the treble.
Once you can strike call changes accurately, you are ready to try your hand at plain hunting – starting on 3 bells and working up to higher numbers. This requires two new skills: altering the speed at which you ring your bell at each stroke and having to see (rather than being told) which bell to follow each time – something known as rope sight. Plain hunt is the simplest method that can be rung on bells.
You can prepare for plain hunt by watching it being rung, standing behind someone ringing it who can explain what they’re doing and ringing plain hunt on a simulator. You should try and get a feel for how much slower you must ring when hunting up to the back and how much quicker when hunting down to the front.
Acquiring Rope Sight
One of the most important stages in becoming a proficient ringer is the development of rope sight. Rope sight is effectively two things; the ability to see which bell you need to follow and to see which place you are in.
How to learn rope sight is a hard question to answer. A lot of ringers will say that it “sort of happened”, or “something clicked and I could see it”. Without it, ringing can be quite difficult, but generally it does come to people in time. There are several exercises that you can try to help improve your rope sight whilst watching ringing:
- Whilst ringing with a covering tenor, try and spot who the tenor is following.
- Try and spot what order the bells lead in.
- Watch the whole band ringing any method trying to spot the first rope to go up or down in each change; then, once you can do that, try watching for the second rope to move, then the third, and so on.
- Try and spot whom the treble is following.
There are a graduated series of exercises which allow rope sight to be developed in bite-sized chunks which might be a more efficient and motivating than ringing Doubles or Minor methods on the treble.
Until you’ve got rope sight you have to ring by numbers, that is, knowing which bell you’re after at each blow, which is learnable for plain courses of a method, but not really practical for touches.
Striking refers to the quality of the ringing in terms of the evenness and regularity of the sound produced; the bells should sound evenly spaced. Striking errors of more than 1/50th of a second are noticeable!
Good striking requires the ability to be able to hear your bell in the change and the physical control to adjust exactly where the bell is rung in the change to ensure that the bells are indeed evenly spaced. When any of the bells in a ring is odd-struck (which is quite often the case) then both these skills are necessary – it is impossible to strike a bell correctly just by relying on pulling a certain time after the bell in front, varying this time interval depending on the weight of the bell.
You will almost always be forgiven striking errors, after all you have an awful lot to concentrate on at this stage. However, you should expect to be corrected and should use this time to start learning how to strike your bell. Experienced ringers will be much less forgiving when your are ringing much more advanced methods and are not able to strike your bell. A well-rounded ringer will aim to develop their striking skills in tandem with their method ringing.
The listening skills required to facilitate good striking can be developed using Strike! a software programme that introduces ringing errors into simulated ringing. CDs are available and then there is the internet. Strike! and various CDs are available to loan from the Branch.
Listening and striking skills can be practiced in the tower however remember that there are a lot of exercises that you can do to improve your listening skills whilst not ringing including:
- Pick out the treble or the tenor in the change, notice where it is and if it moves.
- Use simulator programmes which give feedback on striking. Simulators are installed at Newport Pagnell and Olney.
Once you can pick out your own bell when ringing then striking errors can be corrected.
Raising and Lowering
At some stage of learning you’ll learn to raise and lower a bell, at first by itself, and then in peal, that is, ringing in rounds while changing the amount that the bells swing. Being able to raise and lower in peal is a collective effort, and it is dynamic. You can only learn with a band around you and at most you will only be able to do this once a practice.
I hope that the links on these pages are acknowledgments in their own right. However, whilst writing these pages I found myself coming back to the same websites and acknowledge them separately:
These sites are packed full of useful information, much more than I’ve been able to link to on this site. Enjoy!