Thoughts on ringing difficult methods

My main ringing ambition is to be able to ring on handbells everything that I can ring on tower bells. I don't suppose I'll ever get there, although it's made a tiny bit easier by the fact that there are some things that I'll probably never be able to ring on tower bells either.


I rang a tower bell peal of Spliced Surprise Royal recently, of London, Bristol, Clyde and Lockington, so afterwards I spent some time trying to ring it on handbells with Abel (at least it keeps me off the streets...). To my surprise, after a bit of practice I was able to ring the methods fairly well. I have been thinking about the mental strategies that I use to ring more difficult methods. They also apply to the methods that we are actually ringing on handbells at the moment, such as London and Bristol. Here are some observations, in no particular order.

  • I have to know the methods much more thoroughly than I do for tower bell ringing. On tower bells there's time to work out a place bell from its reverse, or by thinking about which place bell it will become and how it will get there. On handbells I don't have enough thinking time for that, so I have to make sure that I can get straight onto the work of each pair of place bells as they arise. Ringing spliced on tower bells is quite good practice for learning methods well enough to ring them on handbells.
  • In methods that have a regular backwork, for example based on treble bob hunting, if one of my bells is at the back I can let it waft along while concentrating mainly on the other bell. If both bells are in a regular backwork then that's a bonus which allows a bit of relaxation or thinking time. Regular backworks can often be rung in a rule-based style: treble bob until the treble is in a certain position, and so on. This is one reason why the "Kent Apprenticeship" is useful.
  • Sometimes, if both bells are doing tricky wrong-place work, I find myself consciously switching my attention back and forth between them, very carefully advancing each bell along its line by one blow at a time. This takes a lot of concentration. The most difficult methods are the ones in which there isn't much easy work to relax in.
  • It's good to take advantage of easy sections, and often I can see them coming in advance even if I am not familiar enough with the method to remember where all the easy sections come. For example, little blocks of coursing pop up even within non-coursing pairs, such as below the treble in the 7-8 position for Cambridge Royal. A more exotic example is 5th and 7th place bells in Glasgow, when the 7th runs through as the 5th makes 3rds and 4ths; it's a little block of work that's very familiar from right-place methods, and when I see it coming, I know I have a few changes without much thinking, which provides a rest.


If you ask Philip Earis, he will tell you to forget the line and learn the grid. I don't think it is as black and white as that, but understanding more about the construction of the method is essential for handbell ringers. Many so-called difficult methods appear to have a complex blue line, but when you look at the grid (i.e. a lead of the method with all lines drawn rather than numbers) you see that the complex work is synchronized e.g. everyone does a fishtail or a point at the same time. Understanding this is the key to ringing many methods. Take Belfast Surprise Major. The backwork can be described as point, fishtail, treble-bob. If your two bells are in the back four at the leadhead, in any configuration, you immediately know what to do - with both of them you do point, fishtail, treble-bob. It is so much easier than thinking two blue lines (what is seventh's place bell again?).

I agree that the structure is

I agree that the structure is important. When I first started ringing Surprise Major on handbells, I rang entirely by place notation, because somehow I picked up the idea that that's how people did it. After a few peals I found that it was too difficult to recover from mistakes if I didn't have the line in mind, so I switched over to mainly ringing by the line. The methods I find easiest to ring are the ones that I have rung so much that I have thoroughly digested the structure and its relationship to the lines. The structure is also very important for conducting (not that I'm a particularly good conductor) - making structural comments such as "backstroke point now" is easy to do and helps everyone at once. We've been ringing a lot of Surprise Minor this year. I started off ringing mainly by place notation, because the place notations are very easy to learn for the Standard 41. After a while I started trying to become more aware of the lines, again so that I would be able to recover from mistakes better by having an overall view of where I am heading. In the end I found that in some methods, especially the Cambridge group and London, I can ring by the structure without being consciously aware of the place notation - I just ring the correct part of the grid according to where the treble is.