Problems with rule-based learning

Ah, on Saturday we finally broke our string of horrible bad and pointless losses:

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday 12 November 2011 in 2h25 (15C)
5088 Kent Treble Bob Major
Composed: W Hudson
1-2   Tina R Stoecklin
3-4   Jonathan S Frye
5-6   Stephen A Elwell-Sutton
7-8   Simon J Gay (C)

We decided, in our humbled state, to go for a solid Kent, and it was quite solid and very satisfying to ring a good peal all the way to the end.  We were also glad to include Stephen, as we have had to cancel on him more than once recently.

The overall rhythm was good but there were still hesitations in very predictable places: when one bell goes into the slow work (an obvious choice), and also a little stutter when the treble came into the 3-4 down dodge.

I had some time to think about why this is, and came up with the following hypothesis.  Most handbell ringers learn methods like this by learning rules (do x until the treble reaches y, then do z).  This is, in fact, the long-established ‘correct’ way to learn to ring handbells.  And, if, you are teaching someone to ring handbells from scratch (i.e. who has no previous experience with any other kind of ringing), it is the only sensible way to do it.

But that little stutter as the treble approaches 3-4 down reveals the weakness in rule-based learning.  This is the point where one thinks “eek, there’s the treble near the front.  Quick, check where I am, do I need to get ready for places, is one bell going into the slow…” and so on.  Occasionally, one thinks ‘eeek, places!’ a bit too early, which causes a bigger stutter (another similar stutter can happen when the 2 gets to lead and someone mistakes it for the treble and starts frantically doing places).

That sort of high-level mental processing tends to introduce a bit of hesitation.  Likewise, when one of the bells is doing the slow work, you are suddenly no longer ringing a fixed pattern, and the high level processing kicks in, and hesitation occurs.  Actually, I think one should learn and practice that lead as a distinct ‘pair’.  So apart from the obvious patterns we all know, for Kent you should add the pattern of treble bobbing one bell while the other is making seconds.

Whereas, someone who originally learned Kent by the order of work often doesn’t have this problem (possibly they might have different ones).  They know exactly when the places are coming regardless of exactly where the treble is, because of the order of work.

The truth is, no handbell ringer ever relies on just one method of learning.  It is not even much of a trade secret.  But the manuals tend to stick to the rules.  So if you are learning on your own, you may not find out about the other methods of learning so easily.

So if you are struggling to keep up during the tricksier sections of Kent, spend some time with the order of work.  You may find that it helps.  Ringing it a lot helps too.