By John Heaton
Striking refers to the quality of the ringing in terms of the evenness and regularity of the sound produced. When we ring bells in Rounds we should always aim to strike our bells so that they sound evenly spaced. If we do this then the striking is said to be good otherwise it is said to be bad (or terrible, awful, etc.). Striking errors of more than 1/50th of a second are noticeable!
RHYTHM AND STYLE
To help us strike our bells correctly we must develop a sense of rhythm and timing. This involves not only being able to handle our bells efficiently (not over/under pulling, not bumping the stay, long, straight pulls, being able to look at other bells whilst ringing our own) but also being able to hear our own bell amongst the others and to respond to any errors that we hear that we are making. Remember that listening to your own bell is of the utmost importance and that leaving the correct gap visually is only a rough guide to correctly placing your bell. Your bell strikes as your hands pass your nose on their way upwards.
The importance of listening becomes more apparent when ringing a bell which is odd struck, which means that it does not ring at quite the same point in the stroke as expected. Until you learn to pick out your own bell you will not achieve consistently good striking on such a bell. It is therefore not enough just to look at the bell you are following and assume that your bell is necessarily in the correct place. If your bell is odd struck then you must be prepared to alter your timing to compensate.
Many learners fail to ring their backstrokes correctly because they do not look and listen at backstroke. Whilst it is easy to look and listen at handstroke, the arms may get in the way at backstroke. If you suffer from this then you must find some way round it. This usually means learning how to look both under and over your arms according to where you need to look.
When ringing Rounds, stand to face the centre of the circle. When you need to look round you should not turn your whole body since this usually results in the rope swinging about and your having to go and collect the sally from the other side of the room, leading to bad striking.
Ringing An "Inside Bell"
When ringing Rounds we must try to settle down to a rhythm in which all the bells are ringing at the same speed and each is leaving the same gap. Perfect Rounds (a single handstroke followed by a single backstroke) may be written as:
Reading from the left the numbers are evenly spaced, which is how it should be. Note the handstroke gap, big enough for one extra bell to fit in.
The Simplest Errors
Suppose that the ringer of the 3rd consistently rings too close then we would write:
There is a gap between 3 and 4, but this is the fault of 3 ringing too early, not of 4 ringing too late. If the 4th rings more quickly to close the gap the ringing will become faster and faster, thus the 4th must make up for the 3rd's haste by leaving a bigger gap. The cure is for the ringer of the 3rd to leave (or be asked to leave) a slightly bigger gap at each stroke, but it will be noticed that although the gap must be bigger the speed of the bell, once the correction has been made, is not altered.
A More Subtle Error
Some ringers make an error at one stroke but not the other, thus the 3rd might be too close at handstroke but correct at backstroke:
Here, the ringer must leave a bigger gap at handstroke but leave the same gap at backstroke. When asked to leave a bigger gap at handstroke the natural tendency is for the ringer to do so (at least for a while!) but then to ring the backstrokes the same length of time after the handstrokes as before. When this happens the result is:
Now, the 3rd is late at backstroke, possibly with the 4th clipping (ringing at almost the same time as) the 3rd (the 4th must continue to do this since it is actually the 3rd which is making the mistake). Therefore, the complete cure for the early handstrokes is not only to slow down the handstrokes but also to speed up the backstrokes by the same amount. When this is done we get:
In other words, where the error is at one stoke only, the problem is one in which the ringer's fundamental rhythm needs correcting.
A Very Subtle Error
When listening to well struck Rounds or changes it is difficult to avoid breaking the rhythm up into small chunks. For example, on 6 bells you might break the sound into either three groups of two bells or two groups of three bells. Which it is may depend on your own mental state or it may depend on whether some bells are louder than others. Occasionally you may swap from one grouping to the other. On 8 bells the tendency is to break the sound of Rounds up into groups of four bells. In this grouping each group is actually a true set of 4 bells (example here). On higher numbers the tendency is to break the sound up so that as many groups of 4 as possible can be heard with the spare, light bells forming a small group at the start.
The result of this is that some people have a tendency to leave a slight gap if they are ringing the bell that starts one of these groups. Some may rush if they are ringing the last bell of a group. The result when ringing Rounds is a slight gap between bells 4 and 5 when ringing 8 bells, between bells 6 and 7 when ringing 10 bells and between 8 and 9 when ringing 12 bells. This disturbs the rhythm slightly and prompts exhortations from the conductor to concentrate on the "roll ups". The correction of this error requires careful listening and concentration.
Additional Points For Call Change And Method Ringers
When ringing call changes or methods you may find that you cannot easily see which bell to follow. You latch onto the wrong bell and find yourself having to ring much more quickly or slowly than rhythm would suggest in order to place your bell over that one. In this case you must follow your sense of rhythm and not suddenly alter the speed of your bell, but ring it when it feels correct.
All call change and method ringing is made up of sequences of: ringing twice in the same place, moving one place later or moving one place earlier. There are therefore three speeds at which you might need to ring. To stay in the same place you must ring at Rounds speed (fix this speed in your mind as you ring the opening Rounds). To move up 1 place you must ring slightly slower than Rounds speed and to move down 1 place you must ring slightly quicker than Rounds speed. When ringing on 6 bells each bell occupies a slot of 1/6th of the duration of the whole Round. Therefore to ring 1 place earlier you must speed up your bell by 1/6th of a Round (for the blow at which you are actually changing place) and to ring 1 place later you must slow down your bell by 1/6th of a Round. If each Round takes 2 seconds this means a change of speed of 1/3 second.
If you are ringing a method and need to ring 1 place later followed by 1 place earlier, as when dodging, then although the second of these blows is only one position earlier than the first one, since the first one was a slow one the second one feels really quick. You must therefore be prepared to move your bell about in order to achieve the required result.
On 8 bells the slot for each bell is 1/8th of a Round, on 10 bells it is 1/10th of a Round and on 12 bells it is 1/12th of a Round. When you progress to higher numbers you must therefore adjust to the decreasing amount that you need to change speed to change places.
|Too close at both strokes||Leave a bigger gap at both strokes, maintaining the same general speed|
|Too close at one stroke||Leave a bigger gap at that stroke, "smaller" gap at the other stroke|
|Too late at one stroke||Leave a smaller gap at that stroke, "bigger" gap at the other stroke|
So far we have dealt with the situation where the errors are occurring inside the Rounds. When leading, the same faults can occur as when ringing inside and the cures are the same but there are some additional ones. We will start by describing how a correct lead should sound:
By convention, each handstroke starts after a gap (the handstroke gap) just big enough to allow another bell to ring, which gives rise to the open handstroke lead. Thus on 6 bells there are effectively 13 slots into which a bell can fit; only the first twelve are occupied, the 13th provides "punctuation" which helps to show where the next handstroke starts and also adds an extra dimension to the rhythm in the same way that music has a stronger beat on the first beat of the bar. There is a style of ringing in which the handstroke gap is deliberately left out. This is known as cartwheeling.
Common Misconception (of method ringers)
Many learners hear of the handstroke gap and are taught to leave a gap when leading. This is fine when ringing the Treble to Rounds and Call Changes but gives rise to the idea that when their bell gets down to lead they must ring their handstroke more slowly than whilst hunting down to lead. They often end up leaving much too big a gap (listen to 1 and 6 here). When you are ringing Plain Hunt on 5 (say) and are hunting down, you strike a handstroke in 5th's place, backstroke in 4th's place, handstroke in 3rd's place, backstroke in 2nd's place and a handstroke in 1st's place. In order to leave the correct gap in 1st's place you must ring with the same speed and rhythm as the handstroke in 3rd's place, not more slowly. In other words, the move from 4th's place to 3rd's place must be the same as that from 2nd's place to 1st's place. This is because the handstroke gap was built into your move from 4th's place to 3rd's place by the bell that was leading at the time.
For another way to look at this we will write out the end of Plain Hunt on 5:
The dots represent the handstroke gap. Looking at the Treble we see that, including the gap, as it moves from 4th's to 3rds there are 3 bells that ring and one gap. Similarly, as it moves from 2nd's to 1st's there are 3 bells that ring and one gap. The time interval between each blow of the Treble in each of these moves is the same. This means that when coming to lead you do not alter the speed of your handstroke since the rhythm of the gap is already built into the rhythm of the ringing..54321
The other fault that afflicts the learner when leading is that of not looking around enough in the mistaken belief that to do so is making an easy job harder. One reason for this is that the learner often does not know what to look for. When leading at handstroke you are actually following the backstroke of the bell which is ringing last in the previous change.
When following any bell in Rounds you should look at the hands of the ringer and leave the appropriate gap. When leading at handstroke you should try to find the last bell of the previous backstroke and watch their hands, leaving the appropriate gap (which will be big enough to produce the handstroke gap - a bigger gap than that of Rounds). Similarly, when leading at backstroke you must find the last bell to ring at the previous handstroke and watch their hands, leaving the correct gap so that you follow them without a gap.
An alternative which seems to be easy to spot is to find the bell which is ringing last and pull your next stroke as their loop of rope between sally and tail end reaches the bottom of its downward travel and starts to rise again. This works at both strokes.
Whichever visual clues you use you must let the rhythm override any urge to suddenly speed up or slow down over and above that required for a correct lead. Remember that your ears are the final arbiters when trying to ring rhythmically.
Many learners give up trying to find the last bell and instead look down at the floor. Maybe they see experienced ringers doing similar, but you cannot be good at this until you have rung at least 100 peals. The result in the inexperienced (and indeed many experienced ringers!) is that the lowering of the head also lowers the shoulders and arms, resulting in the rope being pulled too soon, giving a leading error. If you cannot yet find the last bell then at least keep your head up.
COMMON ERRORS WHEN METHOD RINGING
When constantly changing places there is another set of errors that starts to occur. The best way to deal with them is to list them and for you to listen to your own ringing and see if you suffer from any of them. This should be an ongoing process throughout your ringing career since anyone can develop these faults.
1. Leading too slowly at handstroke in an over exuberant attempt to leave a handstroke gap,This list could go on for some time yet, but these points are the main ones to watch for.
2. Leading too quickly at handstroke whilst trying to avoid error 1,
3. Leading too quickly at the backstroke of a full lead because of forgetting that you should be slowing down a bit by now,
4. Leading too slowly at backstroke because of exaggeration of the cure for error 3,
5. Not slowing down enough when starting to hunt up after previously hunting down or staying in the same place (e.g. after leading or dodging 3-4up),
6. Slowing down too much in the same situation as error 5,
7. Not speeding up enough when starting to hunt down after previously hunting up or staying in the same place (e.g. after lying or dodging 3-4down),
8. Speeding up too much in the same case as error 7,
9. Not anticipating a change of speed needed for one stroke whilst ringing the previous stroke: a slow blow following a quick blow means that not only must you ring the quick blow earlier but you must also pull it harder,
10. Not leaving enough space over the bigger bells, often accompanied by complaints that the little bells cannot be heard when amongst the bigger bells,
11. Leaving too much space over the smaller bells,
12. Ringing closer and closer as you work your way to the back. Some ringers do not leave enough space when in the higher places even when not following the bigger bells,
13. Slowing down as you come down to lead,
14. When leading at backstroke then handstroke, as at certain times in Stedman, ringing the handstroke too quickly.
MARK A STRIKING COMPETITION TEST PIECE!
The test piece is a plain course of Plain Bob Minor. Listen to it very carefully and see how many errors you can spot. See if you can tell what sort of errors they are: random or specific faults.
Plain Bob Minor is divided into 5 leads of 12 changes. You will need a table with 5 rows of 12 boxes like the one below:
Each box is used for one change. Put a tick in each box when there is an error in the corresponding change. You may try to judge whether some errors are bigger than others and award faults accordingly. A big error might earn two ticks whilst a small one might earn one tick. Start marking when the bells start to change places and stop after the first Rounds at the end.
At your own tower you may not display your faults because those of other ringers are so bad that your own are hidden. It is a good idea to go to other practices and ringing events to get a broader perspective on your own striking. If at one of these practices someone tells you that you have a striking fault then take it as useful advice to be acted upon and not as personal criticism, even if it is presented as such.
There is also a growing trend for ringers to try to see all the bells by staring at a point in the middle of the floor. It is important to realise that nobody's eyes can focus clearly very far from the centre of the field of view and that the brain concentrates its attention on a very small area. The only way to clearly see what is going on is to look at the hands and faces of the ringers and in that way you will learn to follow the thread of the ringing. If you learn and use this skill, called ropesight, then you will become a much better ringer.
Naturally, when learning Plain Hunt and Plain Bob Doubles, you are still learning how to learn methods and you will (and indeed should) make lots of nice big mistakes. Later on, when you are more proficient, you should make sure that you learn a new method thoroughly. If, in a piece of ringing, there is someone who has not learnt the method adequately the striking will never settle down.