When is the 3-4 position not the 3-4 position?

Among the quarters we rang on the most recent handbell day was one of Plain Bob Major, which was Colin's first quarter away from the tenors. As I often do for Bob Major, I called the standard 720 of Bob Minor (i.e. Wrong Home Wrong 6 times, single Home half way and end), which gives 1344. Colin rang 5-6, which repeat a two-course block of work throughout the composition. Before we started, I explained what would happen in this block, and mentioned that the first bob Wrong would put 5-6 into the 3-4 position.

After we had had a couple of false starts, Colin pointed out that the first bob had put him into the 2-3 position, not the 3-4 position. This made me realise that there is an ambiguity in how we refer to the relative positions of a pair of bells, or at least a difference in terminology between hunting-based methods (especially Plain Bob) and more complex methods.

When teaching people to ring handbells, we start with the plain hunting positions. On six, these are: the 1-2 position, also known as "coursing"; the 2-3 position; and the 3-4 position, also known as "opposites". The names 1-2, 2-3 and 3-4 refer firstly to the bells that are in that position when ringing plain hunting, and secondly to the places in which the bells cross over. On 8 there is another position: 4-5.

When starting to ring Plain Bob on an inside pair, we learn that the plain hunting position changes when one of our bells makes 2nds. So, when ringing 3-4 to a course of Bob Major, we spend only two leads in the 3-4 hunting position, and five leads in the 2-3 hunting position. When ringing 7-8 we spend six leads in the coursing (1-2) position and one lead in the 2-3 hunting position.

When ringing methods such as Surprise Major, which are not based on hunting, we use different terminology. The 7-8 position, or "coursing", refers to bells that are adjacent in the coursing order. The 3-4 position refers to bells that are separated by one bell in the coursing order. The 5-6 position refers to bells that are separated by two bells in the coursing order. Considering the plain course coursing order 8753246, we can see that 3-4 are in the 3-4 position, and so on. (For 5-6, remember that the coursing order is a cyclical sequence: writing it as 2468753 shows that 5-6 are separated by two bells). In the coursing order 8576324, each of the usual handbell pairs is in the 3-4 position. The 1-2 position is a special case: the treble and any other bell are in this position.

When ringing a "coursing pair" (e.g. 7-8) in a Surprise Major method, we are not literally coursing in the sense of plain hunting or treble bob hunting in a coursing position. Nevertheless, we say that we are "coursing", and this determines the relative positions of our bells at every lead end. Many compositions keep the tenors coursing, and for handbell ringing, some methods have compositions that also keep another pair coursing for all or most of the time. In many methods, a coursing pair do not become widely separated for long periods, and many people find that this makes the ringing easier.

Coming back to the quarter of Bob Major, the first bob (at Wrong) produces the coursing order 8732546, in which 5-6 are separated by one bell and are therefore in the 3-4 position according to the general (e.g. Surprise Major) terminology. However, at the bob, the 5 makes 4ths and the 6 dodges 7-8 down, so at that point, 5-6 are in the part of the 3-4 course in which they are plain hunting in the 2-3 position, not plain hunting in the 3-4 position.

I have often called the following peal composition of Bob Major, in which 5-6 are "coursing" for all except 4 courses. This doesn't mean that they are literally plain hunting in the coursing position for all that time; they also ring the "split lead", hunting in the 2-3 position, in each course. This composition is much easier to remember than it is to write out; the A block is just the obvious calling that keeps 5-6 coursing.

5056 Plain Bob Major
Andrew S. Hudson

W  B  M  H         23456
         s         42356
         -         32456
         s         34256
   -  -            35264
s        s  |      62534
      s     | A    42536
      -  -  |      65234
-           |      36254
  A   -            25463
 2A   s            35462
 2A   -            45263
 2A   -            25364
 2A   s            45362
-     -  -         23456

For novelty value, it's possible to arrange quarter or indeed peal compositions of Plain Bob in which the trebles do literally plain hunt in the coursing position throughout. Here are two examples:

1260 Plain Bob Royal
Simon J. Gay

1 2 3 4 5 6 7  2345
- s s s s s    2435
s s s s s s s  4235
  s s s s s    2354
s s s s s s s  3254
  s s s s s s  2453
s s s s s s s  4253
  s s s s s    2534
s s s s s s s  5234
  s s s s s    2345
1260 Plain Bob Royal
Simon J. Gay

1 2 3 4 5 6 7  23456
s - - - -   s  62453
- - - - -   s  32456
  - - - - s    24536
3 part.


I agree that the terminology we use can be confusing in this respect. One way to explain is to look at the leadheads of Plain Bob, and ask where do the pairs come together: 12345678 13527486 15738264 17856342 18674523 16482735 14263857 We can see that any inside pair comes together twice: 3-4 in 3-4 and 6-7 5-6 in 5-6 and 4-5 7-8 in 7-8 and 2-3 We also know that when plain hunting a pair, they pass one another two positions, so these are equivalent (in Major): 1-2 and 7-8 2-3 and 6-7 3-4 and 5-6 4-5 and itself So, in a plain course of a method, each pair rings two positions, and each of those positions would naturally cross in two places (when ringing plain hunt), hence the potential for confusion. When talking about ringing methods, I think it is better to use the home position of each pair (you are in the 5-6 position rather than 4-5 position), and explain that in practice this may mean that you are in either of the two hunting positions associated with that pair. If we want to be more explicit about the hunting position, we should perhaps say "2-3 hunting position", or restrict help to instructions like "cross 6-7".