Why don’t my tower bell skills seem to be transferable?

I have learned very many new methods for peals on tower bells and it was so frustrating to find my skills seemed no use in hand.  I considered the skills I use when learning a new method:

  • Learn the place bell order.
  • Create, then condense a verbal description of the blue line for each place bell; this for me will be a list of blocks of work that mentally overlay a visual image of the blue line.
  • Draw out each individual  place bell repeatedly and learn to mentally recite the block list for each place bell to conjure up the associated images.  This is what I will silently do whilst ringing.
  • Draw out the line of the whole course such that it fits on one side of A4.  This gives me the overall shape of the course, how the place bell jigsaw looks when complete. It reveals how many times one travels from front to back, whether there is a long period in one position, and more.
  • Study the grid to look at how place bells interact and identify key markers that will help me stay on track if I get lost, eg I never dodge with my course/after bell, except in one specific place, or in X place bell I will dodge with the treble in 5-6 and again in 7-8.
  • Note where in my blocks I meet the treble, the tenors, course/after bells & what this can tell me.
  • When I first ring the method, during the first couple of courses, I revise my signposts as the practical experience reveals what is and is not useful and often throws up one or two more.

These seemed almost totally non-transferable, so I next considered how I ring Plain Bob in hand:

  • Familiarity with Plain Hunt patterns up to Major (coursing, 2-3, 3-4, opposites)
  • Familiarity with the "tune" (helpful, but can be a hindrance too)
  • Using bits of tower-bell method knowledge, as in following 2 blue lines if ringing 1-2 and occasionally being able to see the coursing order
  • Sometimes slipping into autopilot but the switching back to 'manual' can create havoc.  Staying in 'manual' seems desirable, but in practice is impossible.

For a long time, when there was a call, no matter which pair I had, I would auto-revert to tower-bell mode and there was usually insufficient time; much uncertainty, hesitations & even panic then ensued:

  • What places are my bells in?
  • Will either of them run in, run out or make it? What’s the other one doing?
  • What new position will it leave my bells in? Which way round will they be?

I seemed to have ridiculous trouble with the first of these. It was highly frustrating; I could not reliably see or hear both my positions in the row. I fared better if ringing 1-2 as I was able (mostly) to keep a check on the treble’s position and let that guide the other bell’s work. This, I now feel, was a progress limiter as it was keeping my focus on ringing by two blue lines.


I think your analysis of learning techniques for tower bells, and what does or doesn't transfer to handbells, is useful and insightful, Heather. I find that anything to do with working with particular bells (course bell, after bell) isn't useful, except for the treble passing positions. What is useful is identifying blocks of structure that can help me whichever place bell(s) I'm ringing - for example, the hunting on the front four before and after the half lead in Yorkshire. The main thing though is that I need to know a method much much more thoroughly to be able to ring it on handbells than on tower bells.
I agree that being able to "see" your place is very important: I found myself struggling with this over lockdown when I started ringing on larger numbers on Ringing Room than I usually (even have the chance to) do in real life (either in tower or handbells). All my usual techniques ("just" looking (I think it is a matter of recognizing the patterns of bells, though Im not sure!)), counting (both from the from and the back), concentrating just on the bells which are being rung at the similar time as my own, possibly others Im not thinking of) were failing, and I was having to rely on very basic techniques like "ringing by numbers", errr, I mean "my knowledge of the coursing orders". I did find that my ability to "see" my place (in RR) did start to come back after (lots of!) practice.