26th February 2016

Steps Forward – Change Ringing Theory

A dip into . . . a series of three books written by Chris Mew of the Coventry Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers

  1. Elementary
  2. Intermediate
  3. Advanced

This series of three books, which is a series of notes originally prepared in conjunction with lectures, covers a very large amount of ground, and it’s likely that each will appeal to a different audience:

Book 1 deals with Plain Hunt, Plain Bob and Grandsire, serving to support the practical tuition in the tower.

“The learner change ringer will find the first steps the most difficult, in particular the fact that a change of position is required at both handstroke and backstroke and that attention must be given to all the bells at once in order to see which to follow at any given stroke.”

Following a description of calls in Plain Bob:

“The key thing to remember is what place you would have been and to which place you move at the bob, it is from the latter that you take up the work of the plain course — you must know by heart the starts of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th bells in a plain course for this purpose. If the conductor shouts “you are 3rds place bell”, it means that you are doing the work from the start of the method.”

Book 2 starts with a section on method construction, introducing and explaining a selection of terminology, using illustrative examples. The following reason is given for the study of method construction:

“Many ringers learn methods by heart usually by being able to recite the blue line or sequence of work. Fewer understand why particular pieces of work are performed, how they fit in with the work of the other bells and how work is altered by calls (bobs or singles). A grasp of how a method is constructed will give insight and additional signposts to look for during ringing, will assist in self-correction and is essential in knowing the work of each bell’s start. Sitting down with pencil and paper and writing out the changes of a method is one of the best ways of learning its intricacies whilst at the same time instilling it in the memory.”

It goes on to discuss specific methods, including Kent & Oxford Treble Bob, Stedman, Cambridge Surprise Minor and Double Norwich Major:

“The important difference from methods like Plain Bob and Grandsire is the pattern formed by the treble bell. The figures for the first lead of Kent Minor show that the treble bell does not plain hunt, instead it dodges in every position both on the way from leading to lie behind and on the way back down to lead . . . it means that the treble does not just pass the other bells, but also has to dodge with some of them on the way.”

Book 3 begins with a useful summary of the “standard 8” Surprise Major and the ringing of Grandsire, Stedman, Cambridge and Yorkshire on higher numbers.

The second section of the book is devoted to conducting theory:

“The conductor’s primary function is to give the correct commands by using the words “bob” or “single” at the correct positions and intervals throughout the ringing. However, in practice, this often takes second place owing to the need to correct ringers’ faults and to check that the ringing is progressing in a correct manner. If that were not necessary, then the insertion of calls would be sufficient with no further knowledge of the ringing.”

There is a general description of calls, calling positions and the understanding of terminology in standard methods followed by a section discussing compositions and how they are used and then a long section devoted to coursing orders, transposition and keeping bells right.

“Next in importance to making the correct calls in the correct sequence during a touch, the ability of the conductor to make mental transpositions of the order of the bells is paramount. The alternative is to learn orders by heart, which for a whole peal is not always a practical proposition.”

The book offers a detailed discussion and comparison of the use of coursing orders and natural course ends:

“Continual transposition, as its name implies, is the facility to calculate the incremental effect of successive calls one after another so that the correct coursing order (or indeed natural course end — NCE) may be known as ringing progresses.”

“It must be recognised however, that many methods by the very nature of their construction do not have a simple coursing order . . . Take for example London Surprise Major . . . A glance at the blue line and the figures shows that the bells have an intricate pattern of crossing and re-crossing each other’s paths.”

The advice is then given that:

“Coursing order is only an AID, it is not a substitute for a sound knowledge of the structure of the method being rung and that the key elements of being able to keep other bells right are:

  1. Knowledge of the method
  2. Knowledge of the coursing order/NCE
  3. Homework
  4. Straight experience

“The first three elements can be worked on but the last, as they say, cannot be bought.”

The final section of the book is an introduction to the topic of falseness in methods.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with Chris Mew’s comments:

“The degree to which the individual ringer will progress will depend upon many factors including diligence of study and the opportunities to put theory into practice. Above all apply enthusiasm and you will find those around you will respond with encouragement. If you do not understand something, ask. If you want to attempt something, ring it. Only in this way will you get the most out of the inexhaustible source of challenge and enjoyment which is English change ringing.”

Where can I obtain copies of these books?

Directly from the author:

Christopher Mew
82 Coventry Road
CV34 5HH
Tel (01926) 402273

  1. Elementary: £1
  2. Intermediate: £2
  3. Advanced: £3

plus 50p post and packing, or £1 p&p for all three. Cheques payable to “Coventry Diocesan Guild”.

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