What Am I Letting Myself In For?!

Learning to ring is very much like learning to play the piano. It is not something you can learn in a couple of weeks. In fact we go on learning for the rest of our ringing lives, because there are always new methods to learn, and even when you have rung at 1000 different towers, there are still more to be visited.

This article based on one from the Central Council of Church Bellringers' website, with their kind permission, gives you an idea of what is involved with becoming a ringer.

Bell handling

Most change ringing is performed on tower bells, as described in the Change Ringing section of this website. Therefore the first stage for a beginner is to learn how to handle a tower bell safely and with sufficient control to be able to adjust its speed and to start and stop it at will. An average person with a good tutor should be able to attain this level in a dozen or so individual 30-minute lessons, especially if these can be scheduled several times a week.

Ringing with others

Next you will need to learn how to ring with others, at a pace established by them. This will often begin by learning to follow your tutor or another ringer at a steady interval. If a simulator is available, you can learn to fit in with the simulated sounds of the other bells, thus developing valuable listening skills. You will also start to join in with other ringers during the weekly practice night at your tower, and the first milestone in this stage will be when you first join in the ringing of "rounds" unassisted. Don't be discouraged if this takes many weeks.

Sunday Services

Twitchen, on Exmoor, 1978.

I think that most people are clever enough to work out that the first aim when learning to ring is to be good enough to ring for Sunday Services. A learner once said to me that he wasn't a professional ringer, but just a social one. He turned up when he felt like it, just for the friendship and entertainment. I pointed out to him that if everyone thought like that, there would soon be no team. Ringing is like football - you do have to attend practices and matches, otherwise you are letting everyone down.

In return for your regular attendance there are huge rewards. You become part of a close knit family, who help each other out, not only in the tower, but in life in general. This "family" isn't just the one at your home tower. Ringers across the world relate to each other and look out for each other. Move to a new area, don't know a soul? Just turn up at a local practice night and you will be amongst friends.

Do you want to travel the country, or even the world? Become a good (or even reasonably good) ringer, and this opens doors all over the place. Ringers arrange outings to tiny rural villages, and to great big urban cathedrals, so you see parts of the country that the general public aare not privileged to see.

Call Changes

The Swan Tower in Sydney, Australia,
houses 18 bells!

The next stage beyond ringing rounds is usually to learn to ring call changes, in which the conductor calls different pairs of bells to exchange places in the sequence of striking. Although many ringers regard call-change ringing merely as a way-station in their progress to method ringing, well-struck call changes are perfectly acceptable for Sunday service ringing, and are preferable by far to poorly-struck method ringing.

To many ringers in Devon and Cornwall, call changes are an end in themselves and are performed with great proficiency honed by frequent striking competitions.

Method Ringing

Method ringing requires each ringer to memorise and practise patterns of successive changes in sequence, without the need for the conductor to call individual changes. Methods vary enormously in complexity, providing additional challenges for ringers of all levels of proficiency. Usually you will start to learn and practise simple methods together with call changes during the weekly practice evening at your home tower. In addition you may be able to attend suitable courses run either by your diocesan or county ringing society, perhaps at a Ringing Centre; or run by the Education Committee of the Central Council or by other ringing and educational organisations.

If all this hasn't made you run a mile, then contact your local ringers - ask around, someone will know who they are - and arrange to go to a practice to meet everyone and watch what happens. Who knows, maybe I'll bump into you one day at Twitchen in Devon, or Sydney, Australia, or Derby Cathedral.....