This is the third post in a series on conducting techniques for handbells. In this post and the next one, I will describe ways of using the coursing order to check or correct the ringing.
Plain Bob Major: bells leading in coursing order (www.ringing.org)
The simplest explanation of coursing order is that it is the order in which the bells hunt to the front, or to the back, when ringing Plain Bob. That is, 8753246, or a cyclic rotation of this order, with the treble inserted somewhere according to which lead of the course is being rung. For me, conducting in the full sense includes knowing the coursing order, transposing it at bobs and singles, and using it to check the correctness of the ringing and to correct mistakes. A particular danger in handbell ringing is that one ringer swaps her bells over, and knowledge of the coursing order is the main way of detecting when this has happened. If I don't know the coursing order, I feel helpless; there seems to be too much risk of getting to the end and finding that it's wrong.
I still find it difficult to remember the coursing order while ringing handbells, especially in the harder methods. But assuming that it is possible to remember the coursing order, how can it be used? What I mean by "dynamic" use of the coursing order is checking that the bells are getting to the front or back in the right order, independently of thinking about which place bells they might be. The simplest case is Plain Bob, as the bells are all plain hunting within each lead. If everyone keeps ringing, it's possible to sort out mistakes by telling the bells to lead in the right order (but don't forget to let the treble lead from time to time!). I find it easier to see the order of bells going to the front, rather than the order of bells going to the back. Kent is similar, except that the treble replaces the slow bell in the coursing order during each lead.
In other methods, it's a question of knowing where in the lead the coursing order can be seen. In Cambridge-above methods, bells are treble-bob hunting in coursing order above the treble, which can be used to check the ringing. I find it easiest to see them coming down from the back in coursing order, during the second half of the lead. Thirds place bell passes several bells in coursing order on its way to the back, and again when it comes down from the back. On handbells you ring 3rds place bell twice as often as on tower bells, so that helps.
Yorkshire Major: coursing order at the half lead (www.ringing.org)
In Yorkshire and Bristol, the half lead changes are the same as the half lead changes in Plain Bob, which means that at that moment, the bells are in coursing order: if they were to plain hunt from that point on, they would be hunting in coursing order, and if they had arrived at the half lead by plain hunting, they would have been hunting in coursing order. Of course, Yorkshire and Bristol are not Plain Bob, so the bells don't arrive at the half lead by plain hunting and then continue to plain hunt afterwards. However, in both cases, there is plain hunting on the front four before and after the half lead. So some of the bells do hunt in coursing order during a small section of the lead, and this can be used to check that they have not swapped. To check all of the bells in this way, you have to watch what's happening at the half lead during several consecutive leads.
London is more difficult because it has wrong hunting above the treble, so what you see is the reverse of the coursing order. But below the treble, despite also being wrong hunting, four bells lead in coursing order in between the two times that 7ths place bell leads. It takes practice to be able to observe this while also ringing London on two bells.
My final comment is that if I suspect a swap, it's worth taking the time to be sure that I really have observed bells hunting in the wrong order. Sometimes this means waiting another lead to have another look at the coursing order. An alternative is to tell the ringer which way round he should be - this is easiest if he is coursing - and leave him to work out whether or not he is right.