Striking - Rhythm is the Key!

by Roger Boultbee of Tarporley, Cheshire

Having recently been teaching some learners, I’ve found there are some things I do when ringing which I did automatically, but of which I am now conscious and that learners find useful to know.  I think they are worth passing on. 

When you catch hold of a bell rope there are five elements to achieve good striking:

1.Rope length

2. Rhythm

3. Spot the bell you are following (ropesight)

4. Listen to the result

5. Adjust your pull accordingly to get a better result next time!


This five-part cycle happens for every stroke all the way through whatever piece you are ringing, be it rounds, or a peal, or something in between.

1. Rope length

This includes where to catch the sally as well as where to hold the tail end.  The correct way to start and finish a pull is for your arms to be comfortably stretched above your head and with the bell an easy weight on, or just over, the point of balance.  By this I don’t mean the actual weight of the bell but the amount of pull it is giving as you hold it “on the balance”. This way you can pull the bell exactly when you want not when the bell wants!

At back stroke.....

if the bell comes down on you, lengthen your rope (hold the rope lower, let some rope out) to let the bell go up further. If it goes over the point of balance and is heavy to pull back shorten your rope (hold the rope higher, take some rope in)

At hand stroke..... 

if the bell comes down on you, catch the sally lower to let the bell go up further. If it goes over the point of balance and is heavy to pull back catch the sally higher. 

An extra tip about handstrokes is: because you have to let go of the sally, the handstroke pull is a little shorter than the backstroke, therefore you may to have to pull it harder.  And, as you pull off first into rounds give a good pull at handstroke to make sure your bell goes up well, as the following backstroke is always slower as all the other bells pull off.  This is more noticeable as the number of bells increases (on 12 bells the lighter bells have to virtually stand for what seems seconds before the backstroke comes).  Always try to get the first backstroke round struck well.

Make small adjustments during the first rounds until you have established comfortable and controlled ringing.

If the rope is much too short to achieve this, use a box. Don’t be afraid to ask to stand if you find you need a box after you’ve started ringing. If it is much too long tie a figure-of-eight knot (frowned at in some towers, ask first) or increase the length of tucking (ask again!).  Many tall people have their own tricks for managing a long rope to stop it flapping in their faces – I don’t have this problem so ask them.

2. Rhythm

With the correct rope length, because your hands reach up to the same place every time you can then establish a good rhythm.

For me, the most important thing about good striking is to establish a regular rhythm. Each ring of bells and each bell in that ring will have its own rhythm. Find that rhythm when ringing first rounds for every piece of ringing whichever bell you are ringing. Most bells are odd struck to some degree so take note at both handstroke and backstroke whether your bell has to be slower / faster.  This is done by listening (step 4).  I think of this as the ‘regular rhythm’.

During ringing changes when going up a place (going towards the back) the rhythm slows, ring more slowly.  This means changing your rope length a fraction: at handstroke catch the sally a little lower and at backstroke reach up a little further or let a little rope out. Pull the bell slightly harder and this lets the bell swing a fraction more and it rings more slowly.  This is your ‘slow rhythm’.

When going down a place (going towards the front) the rhythm quickens, ring faster. This means changing your rope length a fraction: at handstroke catch the sally a little higher and at backstroke don’t reach up so far or take a little rope in. Don’t pull quite so hard and this stops the bell swinging so far and it rings faster. This is your ‘quick rhythm’.

Be aware of these three rhythms and you won’t go far wrong.

3. Spot the bell you are following (ropesight)

When ringing rounds finding which bell to follow is straightforward!!

When you are ringing call changes or methods, you will know before you pull whether you have to ring at the same speed (keeping the same place), or quicker (going down a place), or slower (going up a place).

When going up a place, pull in ‘slow rhythm’. There must be a corresponding bell going down a place, in effect you swap over places (and this is how methods are made up).  So the bell following you now has to ring in front of you, so the rule is to follow the bell that followed you and you will go up a place.  As you pull at the beginning of your stroke look around immediately to spot the bell that follows you.

When keeping the same place between rows stick to you ‘regular rhythm’. You should have some idea of which bells are above you and which are below you, so look at the bells below you (the bells above you are following you!) and you will be able to pick the bell about to pull immediately before you.  If you are near the front with few bells below you, as you develop your skill you will be able to see the bells pull in order and fit in your bell to its place accordingly.  But you know all ready when to ring because of your rhythm. Be aware that the bells immediately below you may (or may not) change their places. 

Spotting the bell to follow going down a place is more difficult, but rhythm plays its part.  Pull in ‘quick rhythm’ looking at the bells below you and, with experience (and persistence), you will see the bell which you need to follow coming up to you. The bell that you were following will now be following you (it will be swapping and going up).  Experienced ringers will know which bell to expect but as a learner you will probably not know.

These are general comments.  There are more specific articles on how to find your bell in plain hunting and also in other methods.

Don't be put off by not seeing which bell you should be following, don’t hesitate, pull anyway to rhythm.  If you do hesitate you will be wrong, pull anyway and you have a very good chance of being right!

4.  Listen to the result

A most important thing to do, it’s the people listening outside who matter. 

Be aware that the bell sounds just before it comes to rest at the zenith of its swing, some time after you actually pull.

Unless you are ringing the treble or tenor you probably won’t be able to pick out your bell by its note, at least not at first.  So know where you are striking by place, count them. 

In rounds know which bell you are on and then count the bells as they strike
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 …….etc even striking and notice where your bell sounds in relation to the others, especially the bell in front of you and the bell after you.

If you are ringing a light bell, when you ring after a heavy bell, leave a bigger gap as you pull to get an even gap in striking.  Conversely if you are ringing a heavy bell, when you ring after a light bell, make only a short gap when pulling to achieve an even gap in striking.  Sometimes a much larger bell will pull at the same time (or even in front) to sound after the lighter bell.

Keep listening to every bell in each row right through the piece you are ringing, noting every time where your bell is sounding in relation to the others.

5. Adjust you bell accordingly and get a better result next time

In rounds, if you hear
1 – 2 3 - - 4 – 5 – 6 … and you are ringing the third you are too close, adjust your bell to leave a bigger gap by ringing in a slower rhythm (section 2).

If you hear
1 – 2 - - 3 4 – 5 – 6 …and you are ringing the third, you are too far away, adjust your bell to leave a smaller gap by ringing in a quicker rhythm (section 2).

Make small adjustments to your rope length, maybe even a fraction of an inch or a slightly longer or shorter stretch until you bell is sounding in exactly in the right place.


And that’s all there is to it! If you look at Bell Handling Challenge numbers 18 – 20: that’s how you do it

– RHYTHM, Listening and adjustment

Good bell control is essential.