New school year, new handbell club

Last year's experiment in running a handbell ringing club in our children's primary school was such a success that we were determined to run it another year.  My plan was to do another 4-week block introductory course, followed by a regular session with those who wanted to continue.  At that stage I would introduce the remaining ringers from last year's club -- those that wanted to keep ringing at any rate (so far most have said 'yes').


Since we had the big push last year, I was assuming that most of the novelty value had worn off, so a single group would suffice.  Last year we had 17 pupils give it a go in two groups.

This year, there were 21!

I have taken half of them, and will run another beginner's course after Christmas.

Well, we had our first session at lunchtime yesterday, and got to some rounds in small groups.  We were getting properly stuck in when we were surrounded by the usual inhabitants of the classroom we were occupying -- the promised rain had come.  We retreated to an unused room and carried on practising until a teacher came in to say 'uh actually, we have to start class now.' oops.

So our plain hunting on bodies exercise will have to wait for next week.  The children did pretty well, despite the interruptions.  One did give me her bells and ask for a pair that worked.  I had to smile.  'Keep practising and they will work fine', I said, though I did give her a lighter pair to make it a bit easier.

A practice session with everyone

Following up on the previous post, here's a report on what we did yesterday evening. We're not going to give a blow-by-blow account of our sessions in general, but just this once it might be interesting to describe exactly what we did; maybe it will provoke some comments making comparisons with other people's sessions.

  1. Rounds on 12 with our daughter Dorothy, who is 5. She likes ringing rounds, but she still finds some of the bells difficult to strike, especially the little bells of our 12. Dorothy then went off to play; she just likes a little ring at the beginning of our sessions.
  2. Rounds on 12 with our son, Thomas. He wanted to try the tenors.
  3. Plain hunting on the front 6, with the back 6 covering.
  4. Plain hunting simultaneously on the front 6 and the back 6. The idea was to practice ringing changes with a 12-bell rhythm, without having to find our way through the whole change. This didn't work very well; we didn't give enough thought to the band placing, and it would have been better to first try plain hunting on the back 6 with the front 6 ringing rounds. Nevertheless, we think this idea has potential, and Tina is planning to try it (or maybe an 8-bell version) with the school handbell club. Thomas then decided that his arms were tired from ringing big bells, and went off to play.
  5. Plain Bob Major with Josy on the tenors. We decided to do some 8-bell ringing before starting to work on 10-bell ringing. Angela was ringing 5-6 and Jonathan 1-2, which is very far from our usual band placing - good practice for everyone.
  6. Bastow Little Bob Major, to get used to it before trying Bastow Royal.
  7. Little Bob Major. By this time we had moved Josy to the trebles and I was ringing the tenors, where I managed to stay for the rest of the evening. We started trying to ring a bit faster in order to build up more momentum and a better rhythm. I don't want to become obsessed with ringing faster and faster, but I feel that sometimes we ring the opening rounds fairly slowly, for no very good reason, and then we just stick to that speed. The problem then is that any hesitations during the ringing threaten to bring us grinding to a halt. We often ring slowly and carefully in more difficult methods, for example in our recent attempts at London, but easier methods are an opportunity to practise a brisker pace. We rang Little Bob twice, as the first attempt didn't quite come round.
  8. Kent Major, which might have been Josy's first attempt at it. I think we had a false start, but then it went quite well.
  9. We then embarked on 10-bell ringing. The first step was to ring treble bob hunting. We started with rounds for a while, tower-bell style - normally on handbells we ring "up, down and off", but sometimes it's useful to start with rounds. The idea of ringing treble bob hunting rather than plain hunting is that you have two chances to find each position, so it might be a bit more stable. We didn't ring any plain hunting, though, so I can't say whether or not treble bob hunting was easier with that band on that occasion. Anyway, we managed some treble bob hunting with a good speed and rhythm. We rang it several times. One of the big differences between handbell practices and tower bell practices is that on handbells, if we're ringing something short, we usually ring it two or three times consecutively, trying to get better each time. We find that harder to do at a tower-bell practice because there are always people sitting out.
  10. Next we tried Bastow Royal, and it went quite well. By this time we had managed to establish a good 10-bell speed and rhythm, and we rang several plain courses (a plain course of Bastow is only 36 changes). One thing to work on in future is that the treble, like the slow bell in Kent, has to concentrate on ringing the backstroke leads without hesitation. But ringing Bastow was a success! There's a 10-bell method that we can ring quite decently - hurray! It's a good start to build on.
  11. Finally, we rang a very nice touch of 8-spliced Major. Our work on 10-bell speed and rhythm had paid off and we started much faster than we often ring on 8, and maintained the pace throughout. Sure, there were a few trips (we haven't rung much Pudsey or Superlative for a while), but overall it was much better than we usually ring it in the tower. Very encouraging indeed.

The strategy we're trying to put into practice (probably this sounds very obvious):

  • Have a clear goal for each session and work systematically towards it.
  • On higher numbers, first master a simple method with the most favourable band placing, then work towards more difficult things.

Getting Started on 10

For a while now we've had two regular but separate handbell bands at 1 Albany Quadrant: our original 8-bell band with Jonathan and Angela, and our more recent 6-bell band with Josy. We also practise with our son Thomas whenever we can.


We've been thinking about how to arrange more 8- and 10-bell ringing for Josy (and more regular 10-bell practice for all of us), without abandoning our general strategy of usually going for a quarter at the beginning of a session.

The plan we've settled on is to move to a system of alternate weeks. One week we'll have everyone together and ring on 8 and 10, and the other week we'll have a 6-bell evening and an 8-bell evening. Thomas is also looking forward to trying some 12-bell ringing. Inevitably there will be variations when one or other of us is unavailable, but that's the plan. It's supposed to start tomorrow with a 10-bell evening.

Josy hasn't done much on 10 before, and although the rest of us have rung various things up to Surprise Royal, I think we'll all benefit from working on our 10-bell speed and rhythm. So what are we going to ring? I'm thinking about starting by ringing Bob Minor on the front 6 while the back bells cover or perhaps plain hunt; the idea would be to practise a good 10-bell rhythm without having to find our way through the whole change. After that, here's a selection of rule-based methods to try.

  • Plain Bob, although I think that methods based on treble bob hunting might be more stable to begin with.
  • Little Bob, which is mainly treble bob hunting. Plain and Little Bob spliced is also fun.
  • Bastow Little Bob, which is good practice for Kent and Oxford Treble Bob; it's treble bob hunting except on the front.
  • Kent Little Bob, which gives intensive practice of Kent places.
  • Forward, which is not often rung these days (although there were some early tower-bell peals of Forward Maximus). It's a principle in which everyone treble bob hunts but always does Kent places in 3-4, so it should also be good practice for Kent.
  • Kent and Oxford Treble Bob.
  • Albion Little Treble Bob, in which the treble goes to 4th place and there are double Kent places in 5-6 (a little tricky!). There hasn't been a peal of it on handbells, so there's a challenge for someone.
  • Xanthe Little Treble Bob, in which the treble goes to 2nd place; it's what you get from Oxford Treble Bob by omitting all the changes with the treble above 2nd place. Actually only the Maximus version has been named.
  • Gonville Little Treble Bob is similar but based on Kent, with double Kent places in 3-4. Again, only the Maximus version has been named.

That should keep us going for a while, until we feel like trying rule-based Surprise Royal methods such as Bourne, Norwich and Westminster. Eventually York should be good for practising wrong hunting in a rule-based context.


I didn't mention Gainsborough Little Bob, in which the treble plain hunts to 6th place. It's probably a very good exercise in observing the treble's position, but at the moment I'm more inclined to work on treble-bob-based methods.

Probably it will take a bit of practice before we feel up to going for a 10-bell quarter, but after a while we should always have a 10-bell quarter project on the go, just as we do on 8 at the moment.

We'll report on progress in due course.

Handbell Compositions

Handbell ringers often choose compositions that are designed for handbells, which usually means that a particular pair of bells rings a limited range of positions. For example, 3-4 might be coursing all (or almost all) the time; or perhaps 5-6 might ring only the coursing and 5-6 positions, and never the 3-4 position. There are two reasons why you might want to do this.

  • Specifically to make life easier for one ringer, perhaps a less experienced member of the band who hasn't practised all the positions yet.
  • Making life easier for one ringer, and it doesn't really matter who, reduces the likelihood of mistakes and increases the stability of the ringing as a whole, therefore providing a more solid structure for everyone else to fit into.

I also find it useful to use simple compositions that I won't miscall. There is some tension between these ideas. On the current theme of London, here is a quarter peal composition in which 3-4 are coursing throughout. You have to start and finish at the treble's backstroke snap so that 3-4 are coursing at the beginning.

1280 London Surprise Major
Simon J. Gay
M B W H (43256) 
    -    54236 
  - -    64532 
  -   s  46325 
s   2    62354 
-     -  43256 
Snap start and finish.

It's a little complicated, so instead I chose the following elegant two-part for our first attempts.

1280 London Surprise Major
Simon J. Gay
M B W  23456 
-   -  54632 
  -    43526 
-   -  25634 

After losing it a few times, I realised that by starting with a before, 3-4 would not have to ring the 5-6 position. So that's what we ended up ringing.

1280 London Surprise Major
Simon J. Gay
M B W  23456 
  -    35264 
-   -  62453 
-   -  54326 

For a quarter of Cambridge or Yorkshire Royal on tower bells, I normally call this:

1282 Cambridge Surprise Royal
W H  23456 
- 3  52436 
s   (32456) 

It's not an ideal handbell composition, because 3-4 ring the coursing, 3-4 and 7-8 positions, and 5-6 ring the coursing, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 positions. Instead, we have rung this one for both Cambridge and Yorkshire, which is a well-known simple calling in which 3-4 are unaffected and 5-6 ring only the 3-4 and 5-6 positions:

1440 Cambridge Surprise Royal
M W  23456 
  s  53426 
s s  23465 

The only drawback is that it's longer than necessary, but I think the extra four leads are worth it for the simplicity.

London Landmarks

Sometimes you are really ready for a handbell session:  you have done your homework, you managed somehow to leave work on time, you feel fed, relaxed and focused.  When does that ever happen?

Certainly not last night: one of those slightly crazed evenings where nothing quite went to plan, and the ringing was preceeded by a frenzied session of getting the children to bed a lot earlier than they wanted.  I closed the door on the waiting circle of chairs, realising that I had not spared a thought for ringing London.  This was going to be bad, and it would all be my fault.

We rang it.  And it wasn't bad.  No one swapped their pair, no one got irretrievably lost, and no one repeated a lead.   It was slow and a bit hesitant, and that wrong leading needs more practice - a lot more practice.  And, yours truly had a jolly good go of trying to lose it in the last lead (these habits can be hard to break), which was the most serious error of the evening.

It took a year, which encompassed quite a long break of not ringing it, but we are definitely winning:

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Thursday 23 August 2012
1280 London Surprise Major
1-2   Angela H Deakin
3-4   Tina R Stoecklin
5-6   Jonathan S Frye
7-8   Simon J Gay (C)

Then we finished off the evening with a touch of 8-spliced.  Our first!  That definitely needs more practice, but tonight we all felt it was achievable.


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