Central Council Education Committee


“ Learning Together”

Setting the scene - Rounds

by Peter Dale

This is the first in a series of articles suggesting ways of helping bands with little or no local expertise to master the elements of change ringing.  Often the tower captain may not be able to manage very much more than Plain Hunt, which rather compounds the problem.  A plain course of, say, Grandsire Doubles might be achievable if each member of the band “learns the numbers” for their own bell, but anything further than that would be beyond their wildest dreams.

In some towers, isolated from District or Branch influences, the local ringers may develop their own peculiar ways of doing things and are perfectly content with them.  Under the leadership of the “village expert”, they ensure that all their bells are rung each Sunday, which is more than can be said for many a change-ringing tower.  These articles are not intended for them; the old adage applies: “If it’s working then don’t try to fix it”

Identifying and reaching the target readership for the series is difficult, though.  There are many bands of learners who desperately want to make some progress with change ringing but who lack the opportunity to do so.  Some of them never see The Ringing World, and a few may not even know of its existence.  Going to other towers is not an option for most of them as their pattern of work and family life means that ringing can never be more than a weekly church activity; they just want do it better.

Occasional visitors may offer some help from time to time but they are rarely able or willing to make a long-term commitment, particularly in view of the locals’ apparent reluctance to visit other towers.  Perhaps the most effective help these visitors can offer is in communication.  Through them the tower leader can become aware of different approaches that could help in moving their band of learners forward, assuming, of course, they are prepared to listen to and act upon advice.  Their aim is simply elementary change ringing that their band finds interesting and enjoyable, and which is a pleasure for the congregation to hear each Sunday.

These articles are based on notes and work sheets written for learners at the Cinque Ports Ringing Centre in Dover, adapted to offer tips and advice for novice instructors and tower leaders.  Hopefully they will find their way into towers where they are needed, and perhaps they will interest a wider audience.  Teaching a change ringing band from scratch is an enormous task, even for an experienced teacher.  Nevertheless, the learner band can avoid much frustration and atrocious ringing if the process is broken down into small steps.    There’s a saying from Africa that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! 

Teaching bell handling is not included in this series as there are already plenty of sources covering this, but techniques of bell control needed for the exercises in later instalments will be covered.  Be it understood here and now though that a poor handling style makes for poor bell control.  In fact some handling faults are so serious that, unless they are corrected, there will be little hope of the learner ever striking accurately.  What is so frustrating is that serious faults are often allowed to continue unchecked.

How do you, as a novice captain, know if your learners have a poor style?  For a start, observe visiting ringers discreetly and try to decide who has a good style, and who hasn’t.  Ask them if they have noticed anything that you are doing incorrectly.  They may well have been cringing inwardly at your learners’ bad habits, in which case they’ll be pleased to offer advice.  If you suspect that you might be passing your own handling faults on to your beginners then what should you do?  The Central Council have produced a DVD “Bell Handling – A Tutor’s Companion”.  It costs £10 including postage and is available from Mrs B Wheeler, 18 Bankside, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 1XD.  Purchase a tower copy, or better still buy your own, and get all your ringers together to watch it with you.

It may also be helpful for learners if they can see themselves ringing.  Nowadays cameras with video are in fairly common use, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange an evening when everyone in the band is videoed handling a bell, and that means everyone!  Provided it is taken in good spirit the viewing session afterwards can be a quite a good-humoured event, and it will help to highlight handling problems without too much embarrassment.

Enough said about handling.  This first article was supposed to offer advice about ringing rounds.  It is important in the rounds for a learner to maintain their “place”, rather than to follow blindly the bell in front of them.  A good ringer does not look fixedly at one bell otherwise if that bell were to drift “out of place” then they would do so too!  Tell your beginners to keep an eye on all the bells whose sallies rise and fall before theirs.  These bells are “in front of” or “below” them.   Eventually they could spare a glance at the other bells whose sallies move after theirs.  These bells are “behind” or “above” them.

How do you avoid the awful “crashing about” when a beginner goes wrong?  This is one of the most difficult situations your learners will meet, especially when they are following directly after an erratic ringer.  Encourage everyone to establish a mental “metronome” beat of what the rounds should sound like, and then compare that imaginary beat with what is actually being rung.  You could even ask everyone to clap the rounds beat in unison as a “warm-up” exercise.

While counting their imaginary rounds each ringer should stress the beat of their own place.  For example, the 4th ringer ought to keep an eye on the Treble, 2nd and 3rd and should be thinking to themselves:

“1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 * 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6... “

The * indicates a pause before each hand stroke lead.  This punctuation in the rhythm is called an “open hand stroke lead”.  It allows listeners outside the tower to distinguish between hand and backstrokes.  The sally rises slightly more for the hand strokes while the backstrokes are “tucked in tightly”, particularly with lighter bells.

If there is a consistent irregularity in the beat try to pinpoint which bell is involved.  Suggest politely to the likely offender that they adjust their timing ever so slightly to see if it makes things worse or better.  There are two Central Council CD’s “Listening to Ringing”, at £8 and £9 respectively, which can help everyone enormously to identify the source of poor striking.

Try to resist any temptation to push your band on to another stage until everyone is able to sustain steady rounds on any bell up to their weight limit.  This can be a long hard struggle and the effort is well worth it, but how do you avoid tedium in the process? Well, your ringers may be tired already of their standard diet of call changes, so it could add some spice to the practice if you were to aim for good rounds before each “touch”.  It’s also worth trying another old idea of having some ringers facing outwards from the rope circle, so they can place their bell in rounds only by listening to it.  When your ringers are confident and capable enough to strike well in rounds, what might the next stage be?  Look out for the next article in the series to find out!