The hardest thing about ringing Stedman on handbells is the slow work, or more specifically, managing to keep one bell straight in the slow work without losing track of your other bell. It can also be very challenging to keep track of which handbell is doing which when both are in the slow together.
I really like ringing Stedman in hand and my journey to confidant ringing of it has been aided by changing the way that I think about the front work. Instead of the traditional conception of whole and half turns, I have been using a 'days of the week' model, which works a lot better.
This isn't my idea, but one conceived by Anne and Eddie Martin, who have successfully introduced many handbell ringers to the joys of Stedman.
The traditional concept and its problems
As tower bell ringers we learn Stedman slow work as a series of shaped 'turns' linked by making thirds.
It is a tried and true method and has the advantage of being immediately visual and easy to describe.
The disadvantages are that the changes between right and wrong hunting are a little disguised and also that the boundary between each new six is blurred. By this I mean that each described 'turn' never equates to a whole six, as you can see in our first image.
For a handbell ringer this is a particular problem - you have to keep track of where you are in a whole turn, say, in the middle of which your other bell is moving to a new dodging position. Until you are experienced, it takes a huge amount of concentration to do this, whereas our handbell ideal is to be able to put one bell on autopilot whilst concentrating on the other bell doing the intricate stuff. That way your brain doesn't explode.
How do we get around this.? Bring on....
The days of the week
The answer is to break the slow work into sixes and learn it that way instead. Stedman slow work is five sixes in length, alternating 'slow' (wrong hunting) and 'quick' (right hunting). The genius of the Martins was to assign each six to a day of the week to make it easier to remember.
This table shows how:
|Monday||Wrong/slow||Thirds, lead wrong, point seconds|
|Tuesday||Right/quick||Lead right, thirds, hunt towards front|
|Wednesday||Wrong/slow||Point lead (hand), thirds, point lead (back)|
|Thursday||Right/quick||Thirds, lead right|
|Friday||Wrong/slow||Point seconds, lead wrong, thirds|
This means that:
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday are all wrong hunting, or slow sixes.
- Tuesday and Thursday are right hunting or quick sixes
- Tuesday and Thursday are mirror images of each other.
- Monday and Friday are mirror images of each other
- Wednesday is hump day!
How does this help?
If you have one bell in the slow and the other bell dodging at the back, the bell in the slow moves to a new day of the week at the same time as the other bell moves to a new dodging position. This means that every time a six changes, both bells move to a new piece of work, and so it is much easier to stay in sync.
Meeting yourself in the slow
If your other bell is due to come in quick it can only come in while your slow bell is doing either Tuesday or Thursday work (pictured below). This is the pattern of front work you find in the trebles course. You can practice these shapes so they come automatically, without thinking too hard about it.
Another very common pattern is where both bells are in the slow at the same time, and overlap for three of the five sixes. This occurs during the 3-4 course, the 5-6 course (in Stedman Triples) and the 7-8 course (in Stedman Caters). The second bell enters the slow (Monday), as the first bell is half-way through (Wednesday). In the next six (a quick six) the two bells hunt symmetrically (Tuesday-Thursday), and then ring a Wedsnesday-Friday combination before the first bell leaves the front. This is your most concentrated piece of combined slow work, and is really worth practising on its own.
Less commonly, you might overlap by just one six, so that as one bell is finishing its slow work, the second bell is starting (a Monday-Friday combination). This occurs in the 5-6 course in Stedman Caters:
Experienced Stedman ringers probably work by sixes already, and don't need to learn the 'days of the week', but for those beginning to tackle Stedman it can remove a layer of processing. The 'days of the week' mnemonic can help to keep your pair right (and the right way around). As a matter of fact, having tried this method of mnemonic successfully in handbells, I find it also useful ringing the method in the tower as well.