Wheatley: a great advance for practice and training

Yesterday was our practice session with Caroline, but Tina wasn't available and I didn't manage to get anyone else. So Caroline and I rang with Wheatley, the software ringer for Ringing Room.

I don't know how widely used Wheatley is. I have heard of people using it, but I've only seen one public announcement of it, on Facebook. If you don't know, it's a piece of software developed by Ben White-Horne and Matthew Johnson, who deserve to join the list of ringing software heroes of the pandemic. It links up with Ringing Room and rings any unassigned bells for whatever method you want to ring. You start it off by specifying the method, and then it detects what's going on in Ringing Room - so when you press L for "Look to", it joins in with your ringing.

You can set the ringing speed, but it waits for the humans to ring and also adjusts its speed to fit in with the speed of the human ringers. Optionally you can turn that feature off and have something more like Abel, but if you keep the adaptive speed setting it's very convenient because you don't even have to worry about whether you set the correct speed at the beginning. The combination of waiting and adapting the speed makes it feasible to ring with humans on most of the bells and Wheatley on just one or two. With traditional simulators such as Abel, it has always been very difficult to ring with mostly humans and just a couple of bells being rung by the computer.

So in the session with Caroline, we rang a pair each and Wheatley rang the remaining pair. It was a one-to-one training session with no need for additional helpers. This gets around the main difficulty of organising ringing training, which is the large helper-student ratio that you need. And for the learner, in comparison with solo practice with a simulator, there is the benefit firstly of a more forgiving simulator, and secondly the presence of a human tutor to correct mistakes and generally advise.

For all the bands who are having practices in Ringing Room, either tower bell or handbell, Wheatley gives an option of practising methods that they don't have enough ringers for. This evening Tina, Jonathan, Peter and I tried a quarter of Bristol (unsuccessful, alas), then practised some Cambridge Royal afterwards. With the band that's been trying to ring Bristol Maximus, we reckon that although we can all ring it with Abel, we're not robust enough to ring all together as a band. So we're going to try some practice sessions with Wheatley ringing two or three pairs and see if that helps.

Wheatley gets its methods from Composition Library, and it can also ring any touch from Composition Library. It responds to bobs called by pressing the appropriate keys in Ringing Room, but I'm not sure whether it calls the bobs for you in Ringing Room if you ask it to ring a touch. But anyway, I can use it for an online conducting course that I'm running next month. I have six students and we will mostly be ringing major, so I had planned that I would ring the other two bells myself. But instead I can put Wheatley onto it, and because the idea in the course will be to tell someone which touch to call, I can select that from Wheatley and make the student call the bobs out loud that Wheatley will be ringing automatically.

So it's now possible for anyone to offer one-to-one ringing coaching, for handbells or tower bells, using Ringing Room and Wheatley. A learner can practise a method with an adaptive simulator and a tutor standing behind or indeed ringing. Or two learners in a session with one tutor - whatever you want.  

You can download Wheatley from https://github.com/kneasle/wheatley. You need to be a little bit techy to use it, as it's a Python program that you have to use from the command line, but it's fairly straightforward. I read that the developers are working on integrating it into Ringing Room, but that doesn't seem to be finished yet. I was impressed by how robust it is. You don't even have to tell it which bells to ring, as it detects all the assignments and unassignments that you do in Ringing Room. As long as Wheatley is running, when you press L it will start ringing all the unassigned bells for the specified method.

As you can tell, I'm quite excited by this, and I encourage more people to try it out.


>"but I'm not sure whether it calls the bobs for you in Ringing Room if you ask it to ring a touch" It doesn't: remembering the touch can be a bit of a challenge, but it all adds to the fun!