As our target was Surprise Minor, we initially looked at a method we didn’t know at all, but then decided to switch to Cambridge. To start with the conductor called every place notation. Even with this aid, we frequently collapsed with errors but gradually rang further. As we got familiar with the ringing of the early leads we became better placed to observe what the bells were doing. The time arrived for the conductor to stop calling out the place notations. Suddenly it was much harder again! I initially relied heavily upon silently calling them for myself and, curiously, I found the first half of each lead easier than the second.
We decided to leap into ringing the WHWH 240 rather than just persist with the plain course. This showed the added difficulty of ringing with the tenors split. We soon realised the value of starting in the middle, just before a section that was causing problems as opposed to always starting from the beginning.
I have realised that, especially in solo practice, there is much to be gained from starting with the last lead, then the last 2, last 3 etc. It means you’re always moving towards your most familiar ground, instead of moving into the parts you know less and less well.
This is invaluable and is something Handbell Stadium has really added, especially as there can be large gaps between chances to ring with others. It has shown me my tendency to slip into autopilot (driven at this stage I think by ringing the “tune”) and when I hit a less familiar section it can all fall apart. I had to address this as it’s a real danger in real life ringing. I also noticed that when the music we’re in finds a match in my memory banks I can be drawn into ringing that, rather than concentrating on what we are actually ringing. A simple example is when ringing Little Bob or St Clements, which both contain sections of Plain Bob music, I’ve found myself attempting to switch into Plain Bob for a few more changes than required!
My practice strategy to try to overcome this has been to
- identify a lead I am struggling with
- practice this lead on 5-6 (the pair I tended to ring with others at that point)
- ring the lead before it as well, to ensure ringing through the lead end is smooth
- ring the same 2 leads in a different part of the 720, still on 5-6
- identify leads from the 720 where 3-4 ring these leads and practise ringing them.
The last of these I found significantly hard. The music is totally “wrong”, the treble is in a different place in the circle, and I am accustomed to my bells making the sound of 5-6. The concentration required for this exercise can be immense. When I then go back to 5-6 I try to see even more of what is going on in the method structure.