Working with place notation

I was fortunate enough to find another person who wanted to work with place notation and someone with experience who was willing and had the required patience to guide us. Thank you, Elaine & Hamish!  Progress might have been more rapid if there’d been 2 people with high competence, but I actually feel that we have probably gained more depth of knowledge from the slower pace of learning.   The stages of learning from my own perspective have been:

  1. Learning to use just the internal place digit(s), so 12 would be just 2, 14 would be just 4 etc. This is more than just shorthand.  Taking away the superfluous digits simplifies it and also puts the focus on the internal place(s).
  2. Ringing Original Minor, with the conductor inserting targeted Place Notations to address weak areas.  
  3. When 3 (36) and 5 (56) were introduced, it was quite shocking how much harder it was than making 2nds or 4ths. The turning point for me started with observing that both 36 and 56 feature a dodge in 12.  

I realised there was a stepwise process going on in learning to respond to triggers.

  • Be given the trigger by the conductor calling the required place notation
  • Respond accurately to the trigger 
  • Continue correctly after the action
  • Ultimately it would be to generate the trigger for myself & respond

Learning to respond:

To start with I could only identify what one bell needed to do, but my mind would be utterly blank regarding the other one – indeed I’d even forget what it had just been doing or which direction it had been travelling in.  I tried drawing out on paper all the possible combinations of positions my bells could be in and the effect on them.  It looked great on paper, but did it help? No!  Instead it created an information overload.  It seemed nothing but practising and getting slowly better was going to be the answer.   

Growing familiarity, or “rote learning” followed.  This permitted me to ring a set of changes around a specific place notation without really knowing what was going on, but once I could actually do it, I was gradually able to observe what was happening and why.  It perhaps seems a bit back-to-front but it worked.  This made me realise knowing the “tune” isn’t always the bad thing I’d previously thought it to be.  If actively mentally engaged, this can give the brain-space in which to really start to observe what the bells are doing and why, rather than just floating along with the tune on autopilot.  

Funnily enough (or perhaps obviously?), this is the same strategy I use when teaching a learner to plain hunt the treble in the tower.  I don't play the game of telling them not to learn the numbers; of course they'll know them after a very few goes.  I even start by offering them plain hunting with a Grandsire start, so that the bells appear in the order 2-3-4-5.   My logic is that they need to develop both the concept and physical skill of hunting before moving into the development of ropesight.  


This is very interesting and a good description of how to start ringing by place notation. Early in my handbell ringing career I decided to ring by place notation because somewhere I had picked up the idea that it's how handbell ringers do it. (I also tried ringing by place notation in the tower, which was disastrous). I started ringing surprise major with Steve and Sue Coleman, who did ring everything by place notation. They had evolved a system whereby if the ringing became rough, Sue would call out the place notations so that Steve could just follow them while concentrating on putting everyone right. I continued ringing by place notation after I started ringing with Roger Bailey's band, and rang a few peals of surprise major that way, even up to 8-spliced I think. Eventually I switched to blue lines reinforced by structure (what Philip Earis has described as "blue lines plus") because I was finding it too difficult to recover from mistakes. Also, as you progress to ringing royal and maximus, the lines seem to become relatively easier and place notation becomes more difficult. I think the main risk of ringing by place notation is that unless you can do it perfectly (I like to say, if your bells are always in the right place, no-one will ever question your technique) you might turn yourself into a ringer who is difficult to put right.