Change Ringing in Public

I had forgotten how utterly nervewracking it is to ring with people watching.  The awareness of the audience puts me into this lightheaded state and suddenly it takes  massively more concentration to keep on the lines.

We were ringing, with Jonathan and Angela, for the Christmas Fayre at our local primary school.  Tucked away into a little corner by the ticket desk and barricaded behind a nominal barrier of music stands with informational leaflets, we rang through the endless queue of people waiting to get in.  We stopped every once in a while to see  if anyone wanted a ‘go’, but at that point the children were all too shy.  I don’t blame them, it was quite a crowd to be watching you fumble with some handbells for the first time.

Towards the end of the evening we attracted the intense attention of a crowd of boys, who drew nearer and nearer, sidling their way past the music stands until they were just about sitting in our laps (putting Yorkshire to rest in a premature way).  Curiousity overcame shyness and we had about forty minutes of a steady stream of schoolchildren having a go at ringing.

In the end there was such a queue that we put two of them in at a time, and let them ring rounds on 8.  They all did very well, and a couple were definitely natural bellringers:  one girl even intinctively got the handstroke gap.  Most impressive.  We had one boy back for a second try and he was very good too.  Ironically, they weren’t signed up for the handbell club, but still, it was quite impressive.

We start the school handbell club next week, and I have put together a website with useful resources for them.  Last night was a good dress rehearsal, and we are keen to get started now.

Handbells at the school assembly

This morning we made a presentation about handbell ringing to our primary school, with the aim of getting some students interested in a handbell ringing club.  It was very brief, a short introduction to what this was (ringing by patterns) and wasn’t (tunes).


We got the headteacher to ring some rounds, and got Thomas up to ring some plain hunt.  Truth to tell, we had given the headteacher some coaching beforehand, and she took about ten minutes to get plain hunting (pity she is such a busy person).  Then we said that if anyone had any questions they would have to join the club to find out.

It was really well received, and our initial trepidation about undertaking this has been replaced by a worry that we may have too many volunteers.   We thought we would manage this by having 4-week introductory blocks, and then finding a good plan for anybody that wanted to go further with it.

Next week we are bringing a group of handbell ringers to the school’s Christmas Fair for some demonstrations and ‘have a go’ sessions.  We are looking forward to it.

Oh yes, and last night, London, nyet.  Hilariously, after losing a quarter a decent way in, we then found ourselves utterly incapable of completing a plain course of it.  How does that work?  Then we had a go at a touch of Gonville Little Treble Bob (part of another cyclic composition of David Pipe’s, see the peal on Campanophile).  Those long 3-4 places were surprisingly tricky (but it was easier than ringing London).

Problems with rule-based learning

Ah, on Saturday we finally broke our string of horrible bad and pointless losses:

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday 12 November 2011 in 2h25 (15C)
5088 Kent Treble Bob Major
Composed: W Hudson
1-2   Tina R Stoecklin
3-4   Jonathan S Frye
5-6   Stephen A Elwell-Sutton
7-8   Simon J Gay (C)

We decided, in our humbled state, to go for a solid Kent, and it was quite solid and very satisfying to ring a good peal all the way to the end.  We were also glad to include Stephen, as we have had to cancel on him more than once recently.

The overall rhythm was good but there were still hesitations in very predictable places: when one bell goes into the slow work (an obvious choice), and also a little stutter when the treble came into the 3-4 down dodge.

I had some time to think about why this is, and came up with the following hypothesis.  Most handbell ringers learn methods like this by learning rules (do x until the treble reaches y, then do z).  This is, in fact, the long-established ‘correct’ way to learn to ring handbells.  And, if, you are teaching someone to ring handbells from scratch (i.e. who has no previous experience with any other kind of ringing), it is the only sensible way to do it.

But that little stutter as the treble approaches 3-4 down reveals the weakness in rule-based learning.  This is the point where one thinks “eek, there’s the treble near the front.  Quick, check where I am, do I need to get ready for places, is one bell going into the slow…” and so on.  Occasionally, one thinks ‘eeek, places!’ a bit too early, which causes a bigger stutter (another similar stutter can happen when the 2 gets to lead and someone mistakes it for the treble and starts frantically doing places).

That sort of high-level mental processing tends to introduce a bit of hesitation.  Likewise, when one of the bells is doing the slow work, you are suddenly no longer ringing a fixed pattern, and the high level processing kicks in, and hesitation occurs.  Actually, I think one should learn and practice that lead as a distinct ‘pair’.  So apart from the obvious patterns we all know, for Kent you should add the pattern of treble bobbing one bell while the other is making seconds.

Whereas, someone who originally learned Kent by the order of work often doesn’t have this problem (possibly they might have different ones).  They know exactly when the places are coming regardless of exactly where the treble is, because of the order of work.

The truth is, no handbell ringer ever relies on just one method of learning.  It is not even much of a trade secret.  But the manuals tend to stick to the rules.  So if you are learning on your own, you may not find out about the other methods of learning so easily.

So if you are struggling to keep up during the tricksier sections of Kent, spend some time with the order of work.  You may find that it helps.  Ringing it a lot helps too.

Teaching children to ring handbells

Hmmm.  We have been asked by the headteacher at our Primary School if we can run an after school club to teach the children handbell ringing.  Now, we’ve always had it in mind to invite some of Thomas’ friends to try ringing once we figured out a good way to explain it (although I think we could wait an awfully long time).  A club is a more challenging prospect.


For one thing (the famous Hereford Course Handbell Classes by Wilf Moreton excepted), usually teaching someone to ring handbells is a one-on-one experience.  Also, it has been (in our limited experience thus far) quite a gradual one.  Two, three, ten minutes max at each session, stopping when the children get a bit tired or stroppy, and never pushing them too hard (well, trying not to push them too hard).

How it started was this:  I volunteered some of our regular handbell ringers to come and ring at the school’s upcoming Christmas Fair (I also volunteered a Santa, but that is another story), and said we could do a bit of ringing and a bit of a ‘have a go’ session.  After this, the headteacher approached me and asked if I would be interested in teaching a group of students to do this, and how many could I accomodate?

After we sorted out that we were not talking about ‘English Handbell Ringing’ (ie handbell choirs), she was, to my amazement, still keen. So we are off to do a demo at an Assembly next week.

How to accomplish this has been churning in the back of my mind for a while now, and I have some ideas. I’m not sure if anyone else has tried this before, especially at Primary level.  Any ideas would be very welcome.  Pretty please?

Too many things at once

I learnt a long time ago that trying to combine too many activities into one bundle usually doesn’t work. However, something compels me to test this rule periodically, just in case it is no longer true. After the latest test, I can report that it is still true. I hope this finding will benefit those who are considering tests of their own…


For one reason and another, we gave in to the temptation to combine two handbell peals and a tower bell peal, and it didn’t work out. The Kent Royal was perhaps a little too ambitious, and those of us who had just rung a tower bell peal were a little tired. Anyway, we didn’t do very well, but we did eventually manage a quarter.

The tower bell peal, by the way, was very good.


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