Why is 12-bell ringing so difficult?

A few thoughts based on our experiences.

  • Not enough people. We don't have a large pool of ringers to draw on, so it's difficult to get a 12-bell band together often enough to be able to steadily improve from session to session. In our Kent Maximus attempt last Saturday, Nick was 100 miles from home and Stephen was 80 miles from home.
  • Too many people. With our regular 8-bell band we have become pretty good at getting onto a consistent speed and rhythm as soon as we start ringing. With a larger band, it seems more difficult for everyone to adjust to a common rhythm. A larger team is harder to coordinate than a smaller team.
  • Too many bells. It seems harder to hold a 12-bell change in one's mind, in the sense of being able to find each position unconsciously. This tends to make it necessary to mentally count from 1 to 12 in every change, which takes a lot of concentration.
  • Ringing too slowly. While we don't want to become obsessed with ringing at a particular speed, we also don't want to take 4 hours for a peal. On 12 we have a tendency for the bells in the second half of the change to lag, stretching the change out. This disturbs the rhythm and leads directly to the next problem.
  • Ringing too quickly. If we try to ring in the right place regardless of irregularities in the rhythm, we tend to get some very quick leads, before the previous change has finished. I find this extremely disruptive, even worse than lagging at the end of the change. I don't know what the right balance is.
  • The methods are too difficult. We're becoming competent at Surprise Major, and we've had some success with Surprise Royal, but attempting Surprise Maximus would be a step too far at the moment.
  • The methods are too easy. Or rather, difficult in a different way. We're trying to ring Kent, which is usually considered an easy method because it's "just Treble Bob hunting". However, we are discovering that this kind of rule-based ringing requires different skills from ringing Surprise Major. There aren't large stable chunks of work to settle into, like Cambridge places. In principle it should be straightforward to keep everyone in the right coursing order, but because of the difficulty of finding positions on 12, it's easy for someone to get a blow or two out of place, which disturbs the rhythm. Getting right by trying to course after a particular bell requires more ropesight than we usually use in Surprise Major.

You might very well ask why we are doing it at all. We like a challenge, I suppose. I've mentioned before that I would like to be able to ring on handbells everything that I can ring on tower bells, so that includes Surprise Maximus up to Bristol, as well as Stedman Cinques (our adventures with Stedman are another thread, which we will return to later). Anyway, enough grumbling about how difficult everything is; we just need more practice, of course.

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