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It was really well received, and our initial trepidation about undertaking this has been replaced by a worry that we may have too many volunteers.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.

Yuckshire and gridsight

Mad peal day commenced with Simon, our chief and for the most part, only, conductor going off to the Cathedral to ring a tower bell peal. That left Angela, Jonathan, Robin and myself to ring what really ought to have been a straightforward peal of Yorkshire Major.  It was straightforward, and a bit rubbish.  While we didn’t quite fire out, we also never had much in the way of a clean stretch of ringing to relax and gain confidence.  So we put it out of its misery.


Why did we lack confidence?  Mostly it was the very inexperienced conductor (that being me).  Had we got through to the end, it would have been my second peal as conductor, on anything.  I discovered very quickly that I had both under-prepared, and had just tried to learn the wrong things.

I knew that my ability to put anybody straight was extremely limited, but in fact I found it amazing difficult to just keep myself straight and make sure the bobs went into the right place.  I hardly had time to notice the coursing order I had spent so much time memorizing.

Turns out, the rest of the band was quite capable of tracking the coursing order, and it would have been much more useful had I spent a bit more time studying the method structure so that I could have said some helpful general comments, like whether there was dodging or hunting above the treble.  While nobody was really hopelessly lost, we had a bit of a problem with getting slightly out of sync, which just kept things the wrong side of unstable.

The lovely Robin McKinley writes in her blog that handbell ringing is harder than tower bell ringing beause when you ring the same method but start from a different pair it is like learning a completely new method (‘Twin fiends: handbells and technology‘ about paragraph six). She is, of course, absolutely right.  But there does come a point when you learn enough about a method that you start to see the bigger picture, and see how the different pairs fit together, and how the whole structure of the method works.  I know that this is true because I hear other people talk about it.

It is ‘gridsight’.  And I really don’t have it.  I think I need it if I am to try this again.


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