Going through Simon's occasional series of handbell-friendly compositions, I have been giving some thought to what features make the method itself handbell-friendly. Some methods do lend themselves well to handbells, while other methods are surprisingly tricky. Here are some of my thoughts on some particular features and a 'handbell-friendliness' score out of 5.
By concurrent work I am talking about methods where much or all of the pieces of work line up neatly, so that although you are ringing two bells, you are changing to new sections of work at the same time. Plain Bob has this feature in a small way - all the bells are either hunting or reacting to a seconds place. Kent Treble Bob has this feature - all the dodges line up, so if one of your bells is dodging, then the other bell is probably also dodging. Stedman, especially above triples, also has this feature because of the sixes structure.
The principle extends into Surprise methods as well: in Cambridge, the 3-4 places begin and end at the same time as the Cambridge front work. Yorkshire likewise offers smaller but similar concurrent sections of work, which can help stabilise the ringing and give you a mental break. This works in less common methods as well: Cassiobury has reasonable sections of concurrent work, and the concurrent work around the half lead in Whalley certainly eases the challenge it offers.
Methods where there isn't concurrent work seem very difficult. For example, Bristol is trippy because the fishtail work at the front and back overlap by just a small amount. And let's not get started on the points that don't line up in Belfast!
Right places have a lot of advantages: you know that whenever you make a place (or a consequent dodge), you will always do it a backstroke. It offers a lot of opportunities for mental relaxation: if you can manage it, you only have to consider your position every other stroke or only 50% of the time you are ringing.
And yet, once you get accustomed to ringing wrong places, they can make a method easier: take Oxford and Kent. Oxford has nice right places in 3-4, which at first seems much easier to manage, whereas the cascading (and wrong) places in Kent are always a problem when trying to learn it. However, the effect of the right places in Oxford tosses you around pattern-wise, whereas you always leave those Kent places in the same pattern you entered them.
Symmetry always sounds like a good thing, but symmetry in handbell ringing is not really much of a help, and I'm not sure why. Possibly it is because you are ringing two bells each at different points, but I think it may be because all the pieces of method are a little too much the same as their counterpart, and it is easy to lose track of which bit of work you are actually doing. Also, the whole 'do the same work backwards or upside down' feature of symmetry which is so helpful in learning methods in tower seems to be too mentally tiring to work for a handbell pair.
Superlative, for example, always seems to be trippy. While Bristol is challenging for all kinds of reasons, the symmetry doesn't really offer much help.
Little pieces of symmetry within a method are also not so very helpful. The symmetrical lead of any Surprise method often seems to be the hardest, and certainly tempts you to swap your bells, especially around the half lead. The symmetrical lead for the tenor pair in Yorkshire major has the least amount of coursing in it. Where symmetrical leads are easier (like in the 3-4 course in Bristol or Belfast), they are simpler for other reasons (keep reading).
Distinct front and back works
There are many methods which have a very distinct division in work on the front and work on the back. St Clements has this feature in a very simple way, with dodging on the front and plain bob above. Kent and Oxford are also very obvious examples of this. More complex methods like Bristol or Belfast have very distinct front and back works, with place bells that never go above 4ths or below 5ths place.
When both of your bells are in either the front or the back part of these methods, nothing could be easier. They are dream leads. When you are ringing methods on higher numbers, this feature really comes into its own, because you spend more time inside the backwork. It can be a real bonus for some very hard methods like Phobos (Simon has discussed this in detail in a previous post on structural ringing).
However, when you have one bell on the front and one bell at the back, the difficulty increases quite a lot. Remember how much the ringing can destabilise when someone hesitant hits the frontwork leads when ringing Kent - one bell in the frontwork and one bell in the backwork.
Staticness is where you spend a long time doing trivial variations (combinations of places, dodges or points) in one dodging position, so you spend a long time in a lead not really going anywhere. It sounds like it should offer a nice easy lead or two, letting one bell waft in a fairly static place which concentrating on the other.
It never works that way. Take a little method called Kelvinbridge Surprise Minor (x38x14x12x1236x1234x36, 16). Nobody moves very much: the frontwork is an entire lead of places and dodges (not symmetrical), with a lead-long crankshaft work in 3-4, and an easy and regular backwork that fills in the gaps. You can't get longer pieces of concurrent work. However, when we rang it some years ago it proved a little tricky, and was potentially trippy, as we tried to keep our direction straight and do the dodges and places in the correct order.
Superlative is a method which is also notoriously tricky, despite having very long pieces of concurrent work and a stabilising 5-pull dodge at the half-lead. The pieces of work are just too long and it is easy to lose track of where you are on the line. The frontwork in Belfast is very easy to get out of sync, and usually results in trips on the front. Double Dublin is a minor variation of Bristol, so if you can ring Bristol, Double Dublin ought to be a wheeze. And yet, the small variation creates extremely long works at the front and back, and it is so easy to get out of sync.