Transcribed by Emily Watts
[00:00:00] RUTH: Somebody who’s been learning to ring, sometimes it can be quite a long journey learning to ring and you feel you’re never quite getting it right. But as Judith said, it is worth it because it can affect so many things further down the line and it actually can make your ringing so much more enjoyable, if you feel you are doing something that’s relatively unconscious and you can just enjoy the moment and the oneness with the bell,
[00:00:24] CATHY: Hello, this is the Fun With Bells podcast and I’m Cathy Booth. So I’m imagining that someone clicking on this podcast title knows, or at least has an inkling that they have a handling problem. They might be a newish ringer or somebody who’s been ringing for a while, but they probably want to sort it out quickly and easily.
I’m now going to transport you to the eve of the recent ART conference where I had a discussion with three attendees who learnt to ring in their youth and now teach bell handling. Ruth Suggett is the mover and shaker behind ART’s Bardwell Teaching Centre in Suffolk. And the Editor of ART’s, highly successful, five-year-old Tower Talk newsletter aimed at new ringers. Judith Frye is the Tower Captain at Dunblane Cathedral and Scotland’s training officer, as well as being an ART tutor. She says that she enjoys helping ringers to master the art and achieve a sense of progress. She is the matriarch of a ringing family and has given her five year old grandson a trial on a dumbbell.
Greg Russell, who has flown in from the States for this conference says that it was after handling and teaching badly in his teens, that coming back to ringing about 20 years ago and after extensive studies, he learned to handle and teach properly. He now specializes in correcting, handling issues, mentors other handling instructors, and provides remote coaching through video review.
So my first question was whether it should be obvious to a ringer that they had a handling problem and Ruth Suggett started off the discussion.
[00:02:12] RUTH: I don’t think it would always be obvious to somebody if they’ve got a handling problem. Somebody could be ringing for quite a long time, in their eyes fairly successfully.
But maybe they’re not striking accurately. Maybe they’re not feeling relaxed and confident. They don’t really know why, but they’re managing okay and they’ve coped with whatever the handling issue is. But on the other hand, there are plenty of people who are painfully aware of their handling issues, but they can’t seem to make any progress with correcting it. Could be either.
[00:02:41] CATHY: Now Judith, what are the consequences of poor handling?
[00:02:46] JUDITH: Poor handling usually leads to poor bell control. And if you haven’t got good bell control, you can’t make the bell ring when you want to. So we spend a lot of time teaching methods and everything from simple methods building up in stages to really complicated things. But it doesn’t matter how much you understand all that complexity. If you can’t put your bell where your brain wants it to go, it’s not gonna sound right.
[00:03:11] GREG: And it also stands in the way of progress. It might take somebody months to learn how to plain hunt because they have poor bell control. They don’t even necessarily realize that’s why they can’t plain hunt.
[00:03:24] JUDITH: It is actually fundamental to absolutely everything that we do.
[00:03:29] RUTH: And I think if someone doesn’t have good bell control, they’re always going to be in a state of slight anxiety. So they’re not gonna be confident and their ringing isn’t going to flow. So it’s all part of what Judith was saying, they’re not going to be able strike correctly and ultimately get enjoyment out of ringing.
[00:03:49] JUDITH: Yes. You don’t get satisfaction, your bell is not going where you want it to go.
[00:03:54] CATHY: So by now we’ve established hopefully that somebody should be thinking about whether or not they’ve got poor bell handling. If they don’t already know, they might even have to think whether the other problems that they’re facing might be because of it.
Is that what you’re saying?
[00:04:08] GREG: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:04:10] CATHY: Okay. So Greg, I want to ask you what the prerequisites are to correcting the issue.
[00:04:15] GREG: The first is willingness to have something pointed out about your handling, which then leads to awareness, and I think quite often people can correct their own handling faults if somebody is able to articulate it clearly enough to them.
Other times it takes quite a bit of coaching and encouragement, directly with a mentor or a coach for a little while.
[00:04:36] CATHY: And is there anything else that you can think of that they would need in order to be in a position to correct the issue?
[00:04:45] JUDITH: Two things that I use, one is to video people sometimes because you can tell them what it is they doing, but actually seeing it has much more impact. So videoing them, often on their phone so that they keep the video, they have control of it, or agreeing to delete it afterwards, but letting them actually watch it. The other technique I use, in our tower I have a full length mirror and I hold that in front of the ringer so that they can see from the top of their hands right down to the bottom.
I hold it at the right angle. They can watch, they then get instant feedback and that’s just hugely helpful because they can see it, they can correct it, they can see if they’ve corrected it, and it’s very good.
[00:05:28] RUTH: Now, I think that’s a great idea because you are asking someone to do quite a skillful and quite complex set of movements all in a very short space of time.
And you can truly believe that you are doing something like stretching up to your full height. Well actually you are not, but you can truly believe you are. And I think Judith’s, technique of showing the students what they’re doing is really far more valuable than all the sort of words you can tell them. If they’re not fully, if they don’t really can see it for themselves. Because people are doing a very complicated set of maneuvers and your whole brain is probably taken up with just trying to get the movement right, and you can’t really have that much conscious thought about, my hand here, and I’m gonna put my hand there and do this. But to see it, you can then visualize what you’re meant to be doing, I think.
[00:06:18] JUDITH: Another thing I find helpful if you do the video is to slow it down. Play it at slow speed, because it’s a very fast action. And sometimes it’s quite hard to pick up the tiny part of it that’s wrong if it’s only a small part.
And if you slow it down, it’s so much easier to see.
[00:06:35] RUTH: And it’s helpful for a teacher to see where the problem really lies, cause everything happens in an instant, to analyze the problem. It’s helpful for teacher and learner, I’d say.
[00:06:45] CATHY: Greg, is this something that you do as well? .
[00:06:47] GREG: I just wanted to say, I think the mirror is brilliant and I can’t believe I haven’t heard about it for 20 years.
[00:06:52] RUTH: Just gotta get it up the spiral staircase.
[00:06:55] GREG: With regard to video, I think actually the video is just as valuable to the instructor as it is to the learner. And I largely learned to improve my own teaching by video taping myself.
[00:07:07] CATHY: Your teaching, you say improving your teaching by videoing it.
[00:07:10] GREG: Yeah. So I largely taught myself to teach better by collecting a lot of video of myself teaching learners. And then, going back, reviewing the video and any place that I saw something that didn’t go quite the way I thought it should.
If I backed up five or 10 seconds, I could usually identify some sequence of things that happened before the adverse event happened. And so it was a great resource for understanding what the root causes of my teaching problems were.
[00:07:38] CATHY: So what’s the objective of good bell handling?
[00:07:43] GREG: Good bell control.
[00:07:44] CATHY: and what’s the objective of good bell control? What is the difference between bell handling? I’m getting these terms mixed
[00:07:49] RUTH: But it is a interesting differentiation between bell handling and bell control. You learn good handling in order to have good bell control.
[00:07:57] CATHY: So bell handling is to get good bell control, and bell control is all about having the bell on the balance?
[00:08:07] GREG: Being able to make your bell strike in the right place. And also good bell control means that you’re not spending a tremendous amount of your mental energy worrying about that? -No-
[00:08:17] RUTH: Or even your physical energy. We’ve all seen people who over pull bells and it’s very hard work and it really doesn’t need to be that way.
[00:08:25] CATHY: So how do you break down the different sections of bell handling?
[00:08:30] RUTH: So when someone’s learning to ring, they’re going to be introduced to different elements of the whole action. And within ART, we use a principle of whole, part, whole. Where we show the whole action. And then we break it down into small parts. So the primary elements are the hand stroke, the backstroke, and then the whole pull, and then moving your hands from the sally onto the tail end, we call the transfer.
And Judith, have you got anything else to add to those elements as an art tutor?
[00:09:03] JUDITH: And to teach it you just break those down very small. The backstroke is relatively simple cause it’s just one sort of action. Although you can practice that on a bell that’s not rung up, you can do most exercises like that.
The hand stroke is a little bit more complicated because of the timing involved. So there are various simple exercises you can do to get your hands used to moving in the right place, at the right speed, at the right time. Before you actually touch the rope, so you can mirror what your tutor is doing and break it down into small steps.
When you’ve got the timing, then you can start to take a bit of responsibility yourself.
[00:09:39] CATHY: Greg, do you term these things differently or do you have the same sort of process?
[00:09:45] GREG: Well, I give a different perspective on it. Which is, things that happen up high, things that happen in the middle, things that happen down low. Things that happen on the rising hand stroke, the falling hand stroke. The rising backstroke. The falling backstroke. Because those are the different regimes where different things go wrong and they have different implications.
So that’s more of a diagnostic perspective rather than a how do you teach it perspective.
[00:10:09] CATHY: Interesting. And so we said that the backstroke is relatively simple. Is that the right way around? Yes. Where are the most problems that people have? Which part of it is it?
[00:10:21] JUDITH: I would say the most common error, that is best corrected very early. But it doesn’t happen for everybody, is the hand transfer that Ruth was saying? So as your hand, hands leave go of the sally and your right hand, probably your right hand if you’re right-handed, transfers onto the tail end. It’s often too slow and that causes serious problems down the line. And getting that right at the outset is quite important.
[00:10:46] CATHY: Okay, good. Does anybody want to add anything to that?
[00:10:49] GREG: I think another one that is talked about almost as much and has perhaps an even bigger impact in the short term is inadequate follow through. So they learn a good backstroke follow through initially, and then when they start putting back both strokes together, that follow through falls apart. And that causes all kinds of problems.
[00:11:11] RUTH: And I’d also say that when people learn to catch the sally, they aren’t just learning to bring their hands to coincide with a moving sally, but they’ve got to, also rise up as the sally continues to move upwards. And I think that’s also another area where people don’t always get that right. Or it’s a harder action to achieve successfully. You need a lot of practice for that to build confidence.
[00:11:38] CATHY: So we’ve done what are the most common issues?
[00:11:40] GREG: there are more common issues too!
[00:11:41] RUTH: We could do more, yeah.
[00:11:42] JUDITH: But also we could go on for weeks I think.
[00:11:44] RUTH: I dunno if this is covered. No, but I think Greg made a very good point about you go through the learning process with different stages, but when you introduce another element, then previous things that you’ve learned and perfected suddenly fall by the wayside because you are trying to learn a new skill. So Greg’s point about revisiting the earlier skills is really important. And it’s definitely not looking backwards or retrograde in any way. It’s about building a skill, rather than, “Oh, you haven’t got that. Let’s go back.”
It’s not a failure, it’s part of building the skill for the whole action.
[00:12:22] JUDITH: And this is part of the whole part, whole approach. Is that you do the bits, you put it together, but it’s not very good. So you go back and do the little bits, and then you put it together and it’s a bit better.
Then you go back to the individual parts and it gets even better. But some of the parts still need practicing. So you go back to only the bits that you need to do, and you keep doing that till you refine it and it’s good.
[00:12:46] CATHY: And one thing we haven’t mentioned is muscle memory.
[00:12:48] GREG: It’s very important?
[00:12:49] CATHY: Yes. So people are trying to build this into their muscle memory. Is it a bit like driving where you don’t think about it?
[00:12:56] JUDITH: Exactly like that
[00:12:58] GREG: yes.
[00:12:58] JUDITH: It’s a very good analogy because when you drive, you don’t think about the clutch and the brake and the steering wheel. You think about where you’re going, and it’s the same with ringing. Once you can handle a bell and you can control it accurately, you think about the method you’re ringing, you think about your good striking, and you forget about the handling. But it takes quite a lot of practice to get that into the muscle memory.
[00:13:19] GREG: And some people are comfortable driving after a few months and some people aren’t comfortable driving for several years. And that’s similar with ringing.
[00:13:27] RUTH: Sometimes when I’m teaching, people, when the Sally comes down in front of their face, they take a step backwards because they’re a little bit scared of a moving rope.
And, I find that something I quite often say is, this moving Sally in front of you has got to be almost noticeable, but unnoticeable, it’s such an integral part of ringing to have this moving colored thing going up and down in front of your face, that it has got to be part of almost your own movement.
So it’s got to be deeply embedded in your, I don’t know if it’s subconscious mind or unconscious mind, I’m not a psychologist, but it’s gotta be embedded.
[00:14:06] GREG: When I teach, I think a lot about adverse events that will cause somebody to be frightened or become more anxious, which then interferes with all of the future learning.
[00:14:16] RUTH: -Yeah, absolutely-
[00:14:16] GREG: And the most common is the sally doing unexpected things, hitting them in the face or coming down erratically. Which is why the follow through, the backstroke follow through straight pull. Backstroke follow through are so critical. Without those, the sally becomes unpredictable. The student becomes, less comfortable. The Teacher has more work to do in order to keep everything going smoothly.
[00:14:38] JUDITH: And ironically, what the student does when that happens is step backwards. And if you go further away from the bell rope, it’s more likely to bounce back and hit them, so it actually makes it worse.
[00:14:48] CATHY: ,Right. There was one phrase in your notes that I want you to say…
[00:14:52] GREG: Be one with the bell.
[00:14:53] CATHY: That’s it.
[00:14:55] RUTH: Yeah that’s what I was saying with the Sally, you’ve got to be one with it.
So this moving object is part of you almost.
[00:15:04] GREG: I also call it synchrony, right. You and the bell are one thing, two parts of the same system working together.
[00:15:11] JUDITH: And the thing is, it takes a long time. You have to spend hours and hours doing it before it totally gets into your muscle memory and you can do it without thinking about it. There’s no way around that. There are no shortcuts either.
[00:15:24] CATHY: So what should somebody do if they’ve got a handling problem, they know they’ve got a handling problem.
What should they do about it?
[00:15:30] RUTH: They need to find a teacher they’ve got a good relationship with, because it’s all about trust. The student’s got to believe in what the teacher’s saying to them, and the teacher’s got to know that the student’s willing to make the adjustment. So I think that’s an important thing.
[00:15:46] JUDITH: I think the next step is to analyse what the problem is with a video, a mirror, or just by doing it verbally. And then break it down probably into a small step like you did when you first learn with the whole-part-whole. And find an exercise you can do to practice the small part that’s incorrect, practice that separately, and then go back to the whole action.
Sometimes what happens is, if there’s something wrong, and you keep trying to do the whole action and correct that. You can’t because it’s gone in the muscle memory and it’s too late. So you have to do something that’s different to allow your brain to be able to find a new way to do it. And the whole action is often not the way to do it.
You have to go back to doing something just part of the action to sort the problem out.
[00:16:36] GREG: There really are no shortcuts, but there are long ways around. You can make the process take much longer if you don’t get good coaching, if the longer you practice doing something incorrectly, the harder it is to unlearn it.
And I think quite often, the key to breaking through a particular handling obstacle. Is to get somebody who can help you identify what it is and what the specific little bit of muscle memory that’s been trained wrong is, and how to retrain just that little step. So that it becomes an automatic reflex that your muscles carry out without you having to think about it.
[00:17:11] JUDITH: In an ideal world, if you learned perfectly in the first place, you would never have to go back and do this. The world’s not a perfect place, but I agree with Greg. The sooner you actually get there and correct it, the easier it is. Correcting somebody who’s been doing something, less than perfectly for lots of years.
It’s quite difficult to do. It can be done. It’s worth doing, but it is harder.
[00:17:35] RUTH: I think on that point as well, somebody who’s been learning to ring, sometimes it can be quite a long journey learning to ring and you feel you’re never quite getting it right. But as Judith said, it is worth it because it can affect so many things further down the line and it actually can make your ringing so much more enjoyable if you feel you are doing something that’s relatively unconscious and you can just enjoy the moment and the oneness with the bell, it’s important and the teacher isn’t just always being pernicity. It’s actually worth putting in that effort at the early stages.
[00:18:08] GREG: I heard a talk by a guy some years ago, called Ego is the enemy. That really stuck in my head. Humility makes everything so much easier and ego makes everything so terrible in all regards.
[00:18:26] CATHY: So could you talk about ego again,
[00:18:28] GREG: It stemmed from a talk given, by somebody in the software industry, sometime back, about a book that he’d written called Ego is the Enemy. And it’s basically the ways in which ego interfereswith a ccomplishment and self-confidence and when things go wrong, it leads to depression. When things go right, it leads to egomaniacal, look how wonderful I am kind of behavior. Yeah, and it’s not good for collaboration. It’s not good for learning. It’s not good for having a real understanding of how things are accomplished.
[00:18:58] CATHY: Okay. So so that’s something that people who’ve got bell handing problems should maybe look at.
[00:19:03] GREG: Well, and teachers.
[00:19:04] RUTH: It goes back to what we said earlier about the relationship. You’ve got to be willing to, be brave enough to address your issues. And the teachers got to be understanding enough to understand that the learner may well have self-consciousness issues, things like that, that you’ve gotta both work together to overcome.
[00:19:22] JUDITH: It’s very much the teacher’s role to make the student feel comfortable that they can tackle this. It’s not their fault that they have an issue that needs addressing. It just needs to be done.
[00:19:36] GREG: The improvement happens through collaboration.
[00:19:38] RUTH: Definitely.
[00:19:39] CATHY: So we’ve talked about, what somebody can do by finding a teacher and, what the teacher can do and then they can practice. But is there anything they can do outside of the tower?
[00:19:50] RUTH: Oh, there’s loads I think. There’s a lot of online resources, loads of videos, that they can use. ART has produced a series of videos on their YouTube channel I believe, that they could look at, which gives examples of smaller parts of the bell handling process.
[00:20:07] CATHY: Anybody else can think of anything that somebody could be doing when they’re not in the tower?
[00:20:11] JUDITH: You can practice the action. It depends if you have a particular issue, but for example, if you had a problem where your hands were coming out to the front, whereas in fact, they should come vertically. You can just get an old piece of washing line or something, hang it on the banister, put your fingers around it and just practice slowly doing that.
[00:20:32] GREG: Or just stand in front of a wall, a foot away from the wall. So when you’re in the tower, but you’re not on the end of the rope, watch other ringers. You can actually learn a lot by watching other ringers and see if you can see what’s different about their different styles. Every ringer has a slightly different style.
Most of them fall into a couple of primary camps, and then there are lots of outliers. But I think that the human brain is able to learn a lot from observation. And so just watching closely, trying to understand how other people are handling the bell, can help some people progress with their own handling.
[00:21:08] RUTH: Definitely, cause you may be a brand new ringer, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people can observe different ringing styles and can make a judgment about them. The people who seem to be ringing in the most effortless way are gonna be the people that they perhaps think are the good ringers and they’re probably people who’ve got the neatest, most effective bell handling style.
[00:21:30] JUDITH: Yes I usually ask my learners to watch the experienced band and see who they admire. And I think it’s very helpful cause it makes them think about it, it makes them observe. And if they observe other people, they’re likely to observe their own errors.
[00:21:46] GREG: Yeah. One of our promising learners recently overcame a little problem he was having. And I said, what happened? And he said, “Oh, I went to practice and I watched and I saw the people doing this little thing with their wrists and started doing that”. It was very subtle. So it was okay.
[00:22:01] CATHY: So, I’ve come to near the end of my questions. So we started by somebody coming into the podcast thinking that they’re going to have a quick fix to their handling problem. And actually what we’ve observed is that they need to go to a teacher. They need to have that teacher analyse where their problem is, they need to drill down into the specific issue and practice that little bit and then put it all back together again.
[00:22:28] RUTH: Yeah, pretty much. Maybe there is a quick fix. It may be one very small thing that they’re doing that’s affecting the whole action, or it may be something a little bit more comprehensive. You won’t know until you start discussing it and having a relationship with your teacher.
[00:22:43] JUDITH: And sometimes it can be instant. you just mention it and they say,
[00:22:46] RUTH: “Oh, I didn’t realize I had to do that.”
[00:22:48] JUDITH: Exactly. And then they put it right. On the other hand, the same problem with somebody else. You might spend weeks and weeks just trying different things and nothing seems to work. So it depends. Totally depends.
[00:23:02] RUTH: But most handling errors with the right commitment and teacher you can fix.
[00:23:08] GREG: The teacher does make a difference, perhaps, unfortunately. But some teachers will find the problem right away. Other teachers might take a little while to nail it down. And there, there are so many different things that can cause problems.
I think one of the things that commonly causes problems is people are thrown into rounds and call changes. Before they’ve really learned to regulate the height of the bell properly. They can keep the bell going on their own, but if you look at them ring, first it’s below the balance, then it’s above the balance, then it’s bouncing off the stay.
Then they don’t follow through and they miss the Sally. Then they get everything sorted back out again. And that’s a long way off from having adequate bell control to just ring and rounds.
[00:23:50] JUDITH: That’s a very slow process, is learning that skill of bell control. Just to be able to accurately ring that bell exactly when you want.
There isn’t a short way. It just takes a lot of practice. But there are lots o f exercises and games that you can employ to give you lots of different practice to keep it interesting.
[00:24:11] CATHY: So the teacher has all this tool box. That you need to to tap in to. Okay then my penultimate question is whether you have any anecdotes that are either illuminating or amusing as teachers?
[00:24:26] JUDITH: I have one. I heard about a learner who had been learning for some quite considerable time and had a eureka moment, and he said, “Oh, so the bell makes a sound at backstroke as well”.
[00:24:41] RUTH: A similar one, which is somebody was ringing quite nicely and I said, “Oh, you ring really well at handstroke follows, looking at the bell and following it and timing it correctly, but when you ring backstroke, you just look at the floor”. And they said, “Oh, I didn’t realize I had to do anything different at backstroke”.
But to me that was a very interesting learning point as a teacher, is that you can’t make assumptions just because you know something that your learner’s going to know anything. Yeah, it taught me to be a more careful teacher.
[00:25:10] JUDITH: But we’ve been doing it making assumptions here, but yeah in my case, for well over 40 years. And it’s quite hard to put yourself back to where you were when you were a novice, but you have to do that to be able to teach.
[00:25:22] GREG: I ended up being a novice again in my forties. Actually, those 20 years of not ringing, and I don’t know that this is at all humorous, it’s about me. When I was learning to ring again and I was ringing plain bob doubles and plain bob minor and grandsire, and there was a visitor that would come to our tower once in a while and invariably would yell at me because I had a floating right hand. And it wasn’t until perhaps, I don’t know, six or eight months along, he yelled at me one day and I yelled back at him and I said, “If you can’t tell me how to fix it, stop yelling at me about it”.
And that was a pivotal moment for me because it then drove my own curiosity. About how to fix handling faults and how to help other people fix handling faults.
[00:26:15] CATHY: And what did you do?
[00:26:16] GREG: To fix that? Yeah. Ooh, I’m not sure I remember. I know what I do now. It’s a specific exercises to overcome the muscle memory that’s been ingrained for that floating right hand.
[00:26:28] CATHY: One other question. Just stepping back somebody’s struggling with, they’ve got battle handling problems and they think they’re never going to get there. And, they’ve now realized that they’ve gotta put all this effort in. What is it about ringing that means that they should?
[00:26:46] RUTH: They’ve got to really want to.
[00:26:49] CATHY: But why? What is it that they’re going to get out of it? What do you get out of being a ringer?
[00:26:56] JUDITH: I think it’s fairly obvious from what we’ve been saying. It’s quite a difficult skill. It doesn’t come quickly. It is tricky to make that several, hundred weight of metal swing and put it in exactly the right place.
And it’s a team thing, so it’s not just you, everybody else as well. But when you all do it and you all get it right, the sound and the sense of achievement is amazing really. So I think it’s, I think it’s the striving to achieve perfection and doing it as a team, that’s satisfying.
[00:27:30] GREG: I reckon the things that appeal to us don’t actually appeal to everybody. Some people might put in all that effort and it’s not clear, in the end, what they get out of it. But for those of us that love it, it is that, challenge of doing something as a team that requires coordination and precision and study and it’s very gratifying.
[00:27:51] RUTH: I’ve taken part in ringing where I’ve thought it’s been really amazing that individuals can create something, greater than all the individuals who are participating in it. And, that is a quite a hard thing to get across to your learner to tell them what great delights are awaiting them.
But I think it does boil down to their intrinsic motivation to do it. And even if somebody’s just been learning for a short time, you can tell that people become a bit addicted. They want to come, they want to perfect it. People are somehow driven to master this incredible skill and, rewards await them.
[00:28:28] JUDITH: And there’s the friendship element as well because it’s such a team thing. Ringers form very close friendships and I think it’s the friendships that keep people together as well.
[00:28:38] CATHY: Thank you to my guests, Ruth Suggett, Judith Frye, and Greg Russell for their discussion on how to improve your bell handling.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it. This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley Thomas, Emily Roderick, John Gwynne, Emily Watts, Leslie Belcher and the society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.
[Bells ringing rounds]