Conducting Techniques 4: Static Use of Coursing Order

This post is the last in a series on conducting techniques for handbells. It covers the use of coursing order, but in a different way from the previous post. Last time I wrote about what I call "dynamic" use of the coursing order, which means using the coursing order to check how bells are moving through the work of the method. Now I am going to describe "static" use of the coursing order, which is sub-divided into two topics: (1) using the coursing order to work out particular changes that are going to come up, so that they can be checked; (2) using the coursing order to work out which place bells someone is ringing.

Predicting changes

The easiest cases are the course ends when 5-6 are in their home position. For example, if the coursing order is 54326 then the course end is 13425678. The bells in 2nds and 3rds place strike in the opposite order from their sequence in the coursing order. In Cambridge-above methods, in these coursing orders, I also like to check the change at the treble's backstroke snap after the tenor becomes 7ths place bell. In this case the front bells strike in exactly their coursing order. For example, if the coursing order is 52436 then the change at the treble's backstroke snap is 12435678.

The coursing orders that are cyclic rotations of the plain course - 32465, 24653, 46532, 65324 - produce course ends in which bells 1 to 6 ring a lead end of Plain Bob Minor. For example, if the coursing order is 65324 (this might be produced by a bob at Before in the plain course, which happens in the first course of Horton's 4) then the course end is 13526478. If you have memorised all the lead ends of Plain Bob Minor, typically by ringing it several hundred times with learners, then it's fairly easy to check that these changes come up correctly. It's a little more difficult to pinpoint what's wrong if the expected change doesn't come up.

The coursing orders that produce runs of consecutive bells at the back, are also useful in this respect. For example, coursing orders containing 2453 (i.e. 24536 and 62453) produce changes of the form xxxx2345, certainly at the course end and perhaps elsewhere, depending on the backwork of the method. The coursing order 24653 produces the distinctive lead end 17823456. Spot checks of this kind provide reassurance that everything is going smoothly and there are no swapped pairs.

Working out place bells

The second sub-topic is the one that I find most difficult of all: using the coursing order to work out which place bells someone should be at a particular lead end. On paper this is easy, working from the positions of the tenors. For example, suppose the coursing order is ABCDE and the tenors are 2nds and 4ths place bells. Then bell A is 6ths place bell, bell B is 8ths place bell, bell C is 7ths place bell, bell D is 5ths place bell, and bell E is 3rds place bell. In practice I find it rather difficult, even on tower bells.

A particular case is working out who is affected by a bob. For example at a bob Wrong, Middle or Home, three bells in the coursing order change their relative order from ABC to BCA. Bell B runs out, bell C runs in, and bell A makes the bob. At a bob Before, the coursing order changes from ABCDE to EABCD. Bell E makes the bob, bell A is 6ths place bell, bell B is 8ths place bell, bell C is 7ths place bell and bell D is 5ths place bell.

When ringing handbells, the complication is that I don't think it's useful to tell someone what just one of his or her bells is doing. What I want to do is tell someone what both bells are doing. For example, if there is a bob Before and the new coursing order is 64523, then I want to be able to say "Jonathan 4 and 8, Tina 6 and 5, Angela 7" (usually Jonathan is ringing 5-6, Tina is ringing 3-4 and Angela is ringing 1-2). I'm not sure why, but I find this much easier at the Before than at the other calling positions. Maybe it's because we have been ringing compositions with a lot of Befores in them.

There is a system that I have tried to practise, to make it easier to work out people's place bells relative to what I am doing. The idea is to take the coursing order and notice which relative position each person's bells are in. For example, if the coursing order is 65432 then Jonathan (5-6) and Tina (3-4) are both coursing; Jonathan is coursing after me (I am ringing 7-8) and Tina is coursing after him. So if I am 2nd and 4th place bells, then Jonathan is 6 and 8, and Tina is 7 and 5.

If the coursing order is 64523 then Jonathan is in the 3-4 position immediately after me, and Tina is in the 5-6 position with her first bell coursing between Jonathan's bells. The next part of this system is to know all the pairs of place bells in each position. In the 3-4 position they are 3&4, 2&6, 4&8, 6&7, 8&5, 7&3, 5&2. In the 5-6 position they are 6&5, 8&3, 7&2, 5&4, 3&6, 2&8, 4&7. In both cases I think of the pairs in consistent order: always 7&3, not 3&7. Knowing all this, suppose that the coursing order is 64523 and I am 3rd and 5th place bells. Then Jonathan's first bell is coursing after me and is therefore 2nd place bell; as Jonathan is in the 3-4 position, his other bell is 6th place bell. Tina's first bell is coursing between Jonathan's bells, so it is 4th place bell, and because she is in the 5-6 position, her other bell is 7th place bell.

This sounds quite complicated but I have managed to use this system in some of our peals, although it takes a lot of concentration. The problem with all of this is that it's only necessary to try to work out place bells when the ringing is going badly, and that's exactly when it is most difficult to think about anything beyond what my own bells are doing.