Transcript for ’15 tips to improve your striking’

Transcribed by Cathy Booth and Emily Watts using

COLIN: I think it’s also to remember what’s important about the striking. Is the striking is, is the quality element of what we’re trying to achieve. As ringers, we we ring things called methods and we ring things called rounds and call changes and things like that. But we measure our quality in terms of our striking ability and how well we strike the bells.

[Bells ringing rounds]

CATHY: Hi, welcome to the Fun with Bells podcast, where I, Cathy Booth interview novices and some of the most famous ringers in the world as they reveal the mysteries of this heard, but often hidden art.

[Bells ringing rounds]

[00:00:45] Introductions

So we’re in a village hall at the conference for the Association of Ringing Teachers. Today, we’re going to learn about striking by listening to a discussion between three people who have led teams or participated in national ringing competitions. All three are accomplished ringers on 12 bells or more, as well as helping people through the various stages of learning to ring from basic handling skills to ringing some of the more complex methods. My first guest was Master of the Ancient Society of College Youths in 2005. He serves as the Reading branch ringing master and coaches a young ringers’ team from Oxfordshire who won the 2019 Ringing World National Youth Contest. He gets the most pleasure from observing others develop and achieving high standards. My guest today is Colin Newman. Hello, Colin,

COLIN: Hello.

CATHY: My second guest was a participant in the winning bands in the National Twelve Bell competition in her youth and is now a tower captain teaching young and not so young learners. She is also a local district ringing master. She says “I’ve gained a lot of pleasure out of ringing over the years and want to pass this on to others.” My second guest is Lesley Boyle. Hello, Lesley.

LESLEY: Hello.

CATHY: My third guest was the first woman to be the master of the Ancient Society of College Youths and entered the College Youths into the National Twelve Bell Competition. She rings in Birmingham and is passionate about striking and has also organised the Association of Ringing Teachers’ Masterclasses, which are held in Birmingham each year for people who have achieved level five of Learning the ropes. My last guest today, Stephanie Warboys. Hi, hello, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE: Hi, Cathy. Great to be here.

[00:02:18] Definition of striking

CATHY: So the first question we’ve got about striking is: when ringers talk about striking, what are they talking about, Lesley if you could start us by answering that question?

LESLEY: So we talk about good striking and we talk about bad striking and obviously good striking is the nirvana of ringing. We’re all trying to achieve good striking. And I think strictly speaking, you would say that the ringing should be absolutely regular. So metronomic, even beat. So the space between the bells the same, that the leading should be consistent and the overall length of the change. So that’s if you’ve got a ring of eight bells and they strike and it’s descending scale for rounds one two three four five six seven eight, one two three four five six seven eight. That each one of those is a change and the change should always be the same length. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. And then when you go into ringing a method, the length of the change shouldn’t start slowing up or getting longer. You’re trying to keep that evenness of ringing. So that’s probably a fairly klutzy explanation. I don’t know what my colleagues here would say.

CATHY: Colin

COLIN: yeah, think that’s right. I think Lesley’s described what the change is, and we’re aiming for evenly struck bells in an even length of row. I think it’s also to remember that’s important about the striking is the striking is, is the quality element of what we’re trying to achieve as ringers. We, we ring things called methods and we ring things called rounds and call changes and things like that. But we measure our quality in terms of our striking ability and how well we strike the bells.

CATHY: Stephanie, do you have anything to add?


LESLEY: Stephanie doesn’t know what bad striking is. Stephanie rings with good striking all the time.

[00:04:06] Why striking matters

STEPHANIE: It’s never perfect though, but we aspire to the highest level of striking. We work very hard at it. I like to think about it as just essential. It’s the only thing that matters. It’s a very public performance bell ringing, and you’re trying to do it to the highest possible standard that you and your band are capable of. So I think about it as the only thing that matters, really. And I also refer to it as execution. So in ice skating you get a complexity score and then you get an artistic impression score. Striking is the execution score.

CATHY: And why does striking matter?

STEPHANIE: Because it’s a public performance. The noise you’re making outside is very, very, very loud. People can’t avoid it. We have neighbours. We need to do it to the best of our ability so that they come past and they say, Goodness me, that’s a quintessential English lovely sound.

COLIN: It’s also very important from a Ringer’s point of view as well, isn’t it? I mean none of us really want to be part of what we describe as bad ringing. It just becomes demoralizing and degenerating in a way. You get far more enjoyment if you are ringing in a good, well struck piece of ringing than you ever would do if you were just crashing around in something.

LESLEY: And people outside, people that aren’t ringers at all. They do recognize good striking compared with bad striking. Some of our villagers, they’ll comment when we’ve had a visiting band, whether they’re better than the locals or not.

COLIN: Yes, I think it’s.-

LESLEY: They’re usually right.

COLIN: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a myth that people outside of the tower don’t know what good sounds like. They do know the difference between what sounds nice and what sounds like clattered.

STEPHANIE: So good striking is to be able to execute the equal gap between the bells as perfectly as possible in a metronomic manner.

CATHY: And you mentioned ice skating. You talked about artistic expression as well as execution. What’s the artistic expression?

STEPHANIE: It’s probably gymnastics that I was thinking of as much as the ice skating score. For gymnastics, there’s a technical element for how complex it actually is, and then there’s an execution score for how well they’ve actually done it. So if you’re Simone Biles or somebody who’s fantastic, you do the most complicated things well, you win by miles. But if you do simpler things, but you still do them very well, you can medal. Now ringing should be like that, in my view. That it’s better to do simpler things and execute them well, have good striking than concentrate on methods. Now, really good ringers don’t have to compromise. They can actually ring all the flash and complicated methods and execute to a very high standard. But when you first start, that’s impossible.

[00:06:43] When should we focus on striking? / Hearing your bell

CATHY: So going onto when you first start, at what point is striking something that you should be concentrating on?

COLIN: Ok, so I believe it’s right at the very beginning, I think any person that’s coming into ringing needs to know what striking is about right from lesson one. So if they don’t know what they’re aiming for and what they’re trying to achieve, it’s very, very difficult for them to progress in such a way as to achieve good striking. So right from the very first lesson, it’s important to make sure that somebody gets to listen to something that is good.

LESLEY: Right at the very beginning, they’ve got to be able to hear their bell, to identify which Bell is theirs. And that’s very hard, actually. Because Cathy, I know you’re not a ringer, but you’ve seen ringing and there’s a big delay between you pulling the rope and the bell actually striking. So just getting that first step of identifying when your bell is ringing, going dong. With kids teaching kids, I find it’s quite easy because you can get them to say ‘Dong’ when your bell’s ringing and they don’t feel stupid. But when you’re teaching adults, you have to be a bit more tactful really and they don’t like feeling foolish. So trying to make sure they can hear when their bell rings is the first basic thing you have to do.

COLIN: Yeah, I totally agree. And when I’m teaching somebody to ring the first time they pull a bell or an open bell, because sometimes we teach with bell silent so that we’re not interrupting the neighbours. But as soon as you ring on an open bell, it’s important to point out at which point your bell goes ding. And as Lesley says, trying to get adults to say ‘Ding’ when their bell goes, Ding is very difficult.

LESLEY: Mine all go ‘Dong’,

COLIN: Yes. [All laugh]

CATHY: So if you can’t hear your bell, does that mean there’s no hope for you?

LESLEY: You find a way of getting them to hear their bell. So some people are very good at it. They’re naturals if you like. Just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you can always hear your bell. There’s no predicting who’s going to be good at it or not. But if you can’t hear when your bell should be going, dong. You can bring it right back down to basics. So you’re only ringing one bell and then you add another to it. Ding dong, ding dong. Hear the dong is you and then three blind mice ding dang dong, ding dang ding dong, three blind mice. Which word are you? You try and build up gradually, not overface them. You don’t start ringing on 12 when you’re a learner because you honestly can’t hear your bell then – you have to build up. There’s so many skills involved with ringing your bell, and I believe that the listening is one of the things you switch off first if you’re under stress. I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of driving and you’ve got a passenger that’s talking to you and you come to a big roundabout with five lanes or something, you’re wondering where to go. By the time we got to the other side, you’ve no idea what they’ve been saying. You switch off that part. What you need to do in order to learn to hear, you need less stress. Less multitasking. Focus just on hearing. We need to know that you can hear your bell before you can progress well at that part of ringing. It’s hard. Hard To know how to do it.

[00:10:00] Striking competitions

CATHY: Well, we’re going to come back to some of the exercises that people could do to do proper striking, but I’d quite like to just ask Steph about striking competitions first. What are striking competitions?

STEPHANIE: Well, they’re competitive so they suit me. ‘Cause I’ve naturally got that sort of a nature. Each of the bands, teams normally ring the same thing. There are judges and the judges who decide and pontificate on who has actually rung best. These days, very many of the top competitions are judged by a machine called the Strikeometer. Some very clever technical people have actually managed to computerize the process because it’s very, very difficult to maintain concentration as a judge over an extended period. So we’re all experienced ringers. We’re used to ringing peals that take three, three and a half hours. Judges would have to be there for about six hours with gaps on, off, on, off. And it’s just great we actually have the Strikeometer to help the judges actually get the right result now.

[00:11:03] Technology to help with striking

CATHY: Hmm. So technology can help with this, as a Strikeometer. What about if I’m a new learner? What sort of technology is there available for me to learn how to strike better?

COLIN: Ok. We have simulators in some towers and also dumbbells are installed in some towers, attached to those simulators as well. And in terms of listening exercises, those simulators can be used to emulate the other bells that are ringing. So if we’re ringing something really simple, like some very simple rounds on four, teaching somebody how to hear their bell within that row, if there’s not a strong band to ring around them or ring steadily, the simulator can ring the other three bells. And then the only bell that can be wrong in that row is the student’s bell. So, it gives them a really good opportunity to be able to hear their own bell and whether it’s too close or whether it’s too far away from the bell in front, etc. And it gives the opportunity to provide good feedback as well.

LESLEY: And the software marks them so you can go to a screen after you finish ringing and it shows red, amber, green, depending on how well they’ve struck their bell in that row. And so they can see the good bit and you can point to that. ‘Look, you did really well there’ and encourage them to up their green score the next time. It’s very good. They like it.

COLIN: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s good for competition as well. I’ve spent weeks on Young Ringer’s events up in the Tulloch, the ringing center up there and there’s a simulator there and the youngsters vie amongst themselves to be able to get the best score on the simulator. Who can strike their bell the best either covering to a simple method or even just simply ringing rounds. So yeah, they’re a great tool.

CATHY: Are simulators fairly common around the country. We’re saying that a simulator would be good for people to learn striking. But where would people go to find a simulator?

COLIN: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t think they’re as common as we would like them to be. I’m very, very lucky. I come from a tower with a simulator and there are more dumbbells going in, but it would be good if there were more of them,

LESLEY: Yes, I think they’re getting more common and people that have had simulators lying in a dusty corner for years are beginning to resurrect them and use them. I’m getting a dumbbell in my tower next week. Wohoo, can’t wait, You can actually use this software on a phone or on a computer and ring the bell. So sort of ring the bell with your finger on a key and it will test your striking so you’re still testing your listening skills just without the actual ringing of the, the physical ringing of the bell and the delay that’s involved with that.

CATHY: What’s the software called that we’re talking about?

LESLEY: three different programs. The one most commonly used, I think, is called Abel and there’s an iPhone version, Mobel. You can also learn to ring handbells using it, and it will mark your striking and just give you practice on your own at home.

STEPHANIE: It has all sorts of uses. I send some of my ringers who are more advanced away to practice on Abel using their finger. Its a good way of, not only practicing striking, but also practicing your method ringing because if you come back to the tower and you don’t know the method perfectly, then you won’t strike to the required standard. So I quite often get people to practice their methods offline on the computer so that when they come to the tower, they’re fully prepared.

LESLEY: Yes, brilliant bits of software and we are indebted to these clever guys that have put them together for us. I think Bell Tower is another piece of software and Virtual Belfry.

STEPHANIE: One of the awards tonight is sponsored by AbelSim. Chris Hughes,

LESLEY: Right?



[00:14:49] Is striking getting better or worse in the UK?

CATHY: Okay. To what extent do you think that striking is getting better or worse in the UK?


 Depends where you go. [STEPHANIE: Trick question]

 It’s one of these things that goes up and down and you will find, I think, that it probably depends on someone at that tower being really focused on it, making it a priority. So it’s very easy for a tower to become good at ringing methods ‘ooh we’re ringing surprise major at our tower now’. But then you’ll find that the striking may be terrible, so they’re ringing more complex methods at the expense of the striking. Ideally, you want the striking as well or the striking first. So it seems to go with the individual a lot, doesn’t it?

STEPHANIE: It’s going to be patchy, isn’t it? Depending on the health of individual bands. And as you say, Lesley, what I can tell you for sure is that there have been 2 twelve bell competitions at various venues: 1977 and back in 2000 at the same venue. And the ringing that would have got you a final place wouldn’t get you close through eliminator these days. So the standard of 12 bell ringing has improved very significantly over the last 30 or 40 years. But that I think most people would say is down to there being more 12 bell ringing, 10 bell towers augmented to 12 and also down to the competition. Bands actually focus for that, for the competition. But it’s a sign of what the health of ringing generally is. Generally, it’s stronger in the cities and it’s weaker in the more rural venues than it was 40 years ago, 30/ 40 years.

[00:16:24] Improving your striking at your practice

CATHY: If I’m at one of those rural towers and I’m listening to this and I’m thinking “Well our striking isn’t as good as that, and I’d like to do something about that. What could I do when I turn up at my practice?”


COLIN: Yeah. This is interestingly, it’s because striking is not spoken about enough in the ringing circles, it becomes very political. It would be very difficult for me, for instance, to turn up at somebody’s local practice where the ringing actually isn’t very good because they might have a whole new group of people or they might have an aging band there who’s not as good as they used to. I can’t go in there and politically start to correct people. It’s not the done thing. Well, I think what we need to do as ringers is start talking about striking more and start talking about it at a very, very early stage in development. Then it doesn’t become a taboo subject, which it has done in a lot of places now.

STEPHANIE: I agree with Colin completely. There’s a cultural thing. I mean, the reason Birmingham has won the Twelve bell competition so often is we talk about it. We work at it. We talk about it. We listen to what we’ve done. We improve it. There’s a culture of wanting to do it. And if you don’t have a culture, you can even talk about it. Progress is going to be small.

CATHY: To what extent do you think progress in method ringing is more highly valued than good striking?

STEPHANIE: It’s just it more easily to see, isn’t it? So people can measure. You can see whether somebody has managed to get to the end of a course of Bristol Maximus or a course of Yorkshire major or a course of Plain bob minor, whatever it is that you’re actually trying to learn. That’s sort of visible and tangible, isn’t it? But the thing about striking is before we had the Strikeometer and before we had the simulators, there was no objective measure. So you might have been in a band and a culture or a city where there were people who were excellent ringers with excellent ears and they would say things to encourage and help or whatever. But you could be lost in a wilderness and if you’re lost in the wilderness, then you might be trying really, really hard to ring well and not realize that you’re not. And that’s tragic. And I’d really like to see that change because that’s the biggest barrier there is, I think, for people to progress that they think it’s all about the method, but it’s not. It’s all about the execution, it’s all about the noise.

LESLEY: I think there’s a rising emphasis on striking and teaching well, so teaching bell handling well, I think we’re doing that better and I see a lot less bad handling when I go to other towers now than I used to. That contributes to bell control, which will help you do good striking. It’s very hard to strike your bell well if you can’t manage it well. And here we are today at the ART conference, encouraging a focus on striking. People will go away with extra tips and techniques up their sleeve, and it will all spread out. Disseminate. So I’m hopeful.

COLIN: Yeah, it’s really, really good to be talking about striking so much today. I think almost three hours of today in the main hall has been dedicated to talking about striking, which is quite new in terms of ringing. I think the original point here was, is there a focus on Method Ringing? I think also alongside the other things that have been said, there’s a patience issue as well. I think there’s not enough time given to consolidating one thing before moving on to the next. I think there’s an underlying fear that a ringer is going to become bored if they don’t move from rounds onto basic changes onto Cambridge Minor, or whatever they do, quickly. And I don’t think that’s the case. I think most people would have a desire to achieve good standards at each stage if they were taught about it at the beginning.

LESLEY: If the tower they’re at values striking, then ringing some good rounds, people can come away from it and go: ‘Yes, that was really good’. So I think the changing the focus a bit during practices. Sometimes as a tower captain, I worry about learners not progressing quickly enough. So what you referred to, Colin. But actually, quite often they themselves would value much more someone else in the tower saying, ‘that was really good striking’ or ‘that that bit of rounds and call changes at the end. That was really good’. And they come away glowing from that. And I’m thinking, Oh gosh, they didn’t manage to ring Plain Hunt. Actually focusing on the striking; we should do more of it and that they would like it to, I think.

COLIN: Absolutely agree.

STEPHANIE: The emphasis today is really good, isn’t it? Because it’s going to give people the confidence with your speech, Colin, to go away and actually try to implement a little bit of change and cultural change in some new ideas, at least within towers, which is going to help people actually just deliver better.

[00:21:19] Devon call change ringing

CATHY: Before we go on to some of those, I I had one of the podcast episodes about ringing in Devon. They don’t ring methods in Devon.


CATHY: Do you think we emphasize methods too much?

LESLEY: Yes. [all laugh]

COLIN: I think we could probably end up disagreeing on that. I think in Devon, they ring call changes. They ring a slightly different style to us. 90 percent of what they focus on is good striking and I’ve gone down and visited Devon and I’ve been involved in a Devon band practice night and I’ve been petrified. it’s really, really difficult. I think we do ring methods outside of that part of the country. I think we do need to have a focus on methods. I think some people are driven by this, although I would say the striking ought to be the top priority.

STEPHANIE: But the Black Zone can do both.

LESLEY: I’ve sent YouTube video clips of Devon call Change Ringers around to my band sometimes, and it’s like, Wow!

STEPHANIE: It’s fabulous. Fabulous noise.

LESLEY: Yes, amazing. Mind you, you talk about being petrified going to Devon. I’m petrified, going to Birmingham, think woah, can I strike well enough and ring?

[00:22:34] How Stephanie learnt to ring

STEPHANIE: Well, when I learnt to ring, I learnt to ring in a very intensive manner. We had to go every day for a fortnight. There were five of us who all learnt to ring and we were taught in the old fashioned way. And while somebody was learning, we were writing out place notation, drawing pictures of bells, head stocks, reading the book about ringing, all that type of stuff. But I was never taught about striking. I was only ever taught that it was supposed to be even. So, therefore, I tried to put my bell exactly, if I was trying to be in sixth place, which I had an idea where it was. But I would try and put my bell halfway between wherever the bell in fifths and the bell in sevens actually rung. So I was trying to anticipate what they were doing and go in the middle of it. That’s what I thought. But good striking isn’t like that. Good striking -it starts at the beginning of the change, and the beginning of the change starts at the same place and it finishes at the same place and it starts at the same place and it’s absolutely relentlessly the same length. You don’t go for a gap, you don’t wait for anyone. You walk down the street in a calm, collected way and you think about the pace and the rhythm that you’re walking at. One two three four five six seven eight one two three. So you keep that in your head, a nice even rhythm. You don’t try to avoid other bells when you’re walking down a pavement, you don’t try and avoid the cracks to you unless you’re playing some game. You just walk evenly down the pavement. What happens when people are ringing is they look at each other and they try to avoid and make judgments about where they should ring by seeing things. Whereas the important thing is to get in touch with your inner rhythm and sense and learn to listen and then to deliver consistently.

COLIN: Yeah. And I actually love the number of times the word relentless has been used in the striking speeches today. It is absolutely essential that you are absolutely relentless with your rhythm and where your bell goes each time.

LESLEY: Hmm. Sixth place is sixth place.

STEPHANIE: So we wait for no-one Lesley.

LESLEY: Exactly.

[00:24:39] What if you don’t have a good sense of rhythm?

CATHY: And if somebody thinks I don’t have a particularly good sense of rhythm, is there any hope for me?

COLIN: Yes, it’s interesting I’ve done my talk twice today. In the first session this morning, I asked the question of an audience of about 40 people who thought it was possible to teach people rhythm and four people put their hands up. I totally disagree with that. I think everybody has access to their own internal sense of rhythm and their ability to follow a consistent beat. I think it’s 100 percent coachable. You have tools available in terms of metronomes. Movement to rhythmic music or rhythmic ringing is very important to help internalize the rhythm and also the use in ringing, the use of things other than a tower bell as well. Something where you get a more immediate sound to something, but it is there in everybody. It’s not as easily accessible in everybody, but I’m yet to be unsuccessful in finding someone’s rhythm.

CATHY: So you mentioned a metronome for a start there. What would somebody do with a metronome?

COLIN: They follow along to it. They would clap to it. So one two three four five six seven eight, so they would follow the metronome themselves. They might not get it first time. It’s very interesting. I find with very young children, they don’t have a good sense of rhythm at all. They find it very hard to access that. And only when they become a certain age, they can actually access their internal rhythm and start tapping away to the rhythm of a metronome.

CATHY: And you mentioned music as well.

COLIN: So dancing requires rhythm, and if you are quite happy as an adult to make a fool of yourself in your lounge, in front of your family and dance to a rhythmic piece of music, that will help you internalize the rhythm that’s there and the rhythm in ringing is actually very straightforward because we’re only looking for even gaps all the time. We’re not looking for anything that’s in any way complicated. It’s just a steady beat all of the time.

STEPHANIE: But isn’t it interesting that the best musicians are often not the best ringers? You had one of those, Lesley?

[00:26:37] Skills you need for ringing

LESLEY: Yes. Yeah. I’m not sure what skills you need for ringing. It’s weird, isn’t it? You can’t pin it down, and you would think that a musician could hear their bell and anticipate the rhythm. But I’ve seen a few cases where they’re not the best ringer. They don’t find it easy.

COLIN: Yeah, there are undoubtedly people that aren’t going to make it, and I think everybody will experience that. And I think for a musician, any instrument you get, you will press a key on a piano, you get an immediate result, you slow the bow on a violin, you get an immediate result, you pull a bell, you pull the sally and you wait and then you get a result. And that throws a lot of people.

LESLEY: There’s so many things going on. There’s the physical skill, the listening, the watching. It is the ultimate multi-tasking and you’re asking them to be more precise about the listening and think where they’re going. It’s a lot. I think people will get better. Whether they’ll get good, they’ll get good enough. But reaching the pinnacle of good ringing, you have to be really good at striking and really good at controlling your bell.

[00:27:41] Top teams’ accuracy

STEPHANIE: It was interesting wasn’t it? What Richard said this morning, the accuracy to which the top 12 bell teams rang on a challenging set of bells will be one fortieth of a second and on easier bells will be one sixty-seventh of a second.

LESLEY: It’s amazing, isn’t it?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, and you can’t process that in your head. You can only do that by physically knowing, just knowing and that physical rhythm. I think there are many people who have succeeded in ringing, but in my mind, those sort of two general types. There are some very musical people, but the musical people have to be able to cope with the time delay that Colin’s talking about. But there are a whole group of other people who are not musical at all, who are top class ringers, and generally speaking, they’re people who are well coordinated. Beautiful bell control, complete control of what they’re doing. Excellent focus and concentration. And they work very hard at it. The good ones amongst them will have that innate sense of rhythm, so they might not be musical and might not have perfect pitch. But they’re still just rhythmic, rhythmic in a very straightforward walking down the road in nice even rhythm type of way.

LESLEY: Anticipation of where the beat’s going to be and hitting the right spot.

STEPHANIE: Sweet spot. And when it’s good, it’s just so good. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

LESLEY: It’s what we’re all trying to achieve.

[00:29:07] Coaching striking

CATHY: Colin, can you talk me through the time of how you helped someone improve their striking?

COLIN: Yeah, I’ve worked with a lot of people and I currently coach the ODG youth team and some of the ringers that come along to that are better than others. I’m very, very lucky that it’s a very strong band. It has three Bristol Maximus ringers in it, which really helps us along quite nicely. But I think it’s very difficult to identify an individual thing that you need to do. Everyone is different. Everybody responds to different things. They respond to different feedback and feedback given in different ways. Helping somebody understand hearing their bell in rounds, I have successfully got somebody moved them from ringing rounds on eight all the way down to rounds on three and got a result on the rounds on three, but only they managed to get it back up to six again, and they could never hear their bell in rounds on eight. And I think people have plateaus of where they’re going to get to and if they have those plateaus and they’re happy at that place, that’s not a problem. But it’s all about, when you’re coaching, is finding a way to actually resolve a problem, and not everybody responds the same. And striking I would say, is probably the hardest thing in ringing to coach effectively.

LESLEY: I’ve used simulators quite a lot with people that are having trouble hearing their bell. The good thing about simulators, you can get the computer to ring the other bells and the computer will ring them perfectly. Often your problem in the practice night is the helpers. Helpers can go wrong or not strike very well, so end up being not very helpful.

STEPHANIE: The helpers don’t help.

COLIN: I call them the supporting cast,

LESLEY: Right.


LESLEY: Right. So ringing with a simulator, maybe four bells and you’re ringing the third and the computer’s ringing perfectly and the learner can see, there’s a visual cue from the computer screen, the red, yellow, green color coding and of course, the sound they can see and hear when they’re late or early and up the frequency of being in the right place. And they have that achievement. Yes, they can do it. And it’s magic, sometimes when you see someone kind of get it.

COLIN: Absolutely. And with all these things and it’s finding these analogies, and it’s actually then finding that place and then consolidating that point before moving on. So once they’ve got that rounds on four, ring lots of rounds on four and I mean loads and loads and loads of them, before moving to five and moving to six. If you try to progress too fast, striking suffers dramatically, the faster you move.

[00:31:49] Importance of well maintained bells

STEPHANIE: You need to ring with people who are better than you are. I’m lucky I can ring with 11 people who are better than I am, and that makes me better. But otherwise, it’s very hard to tell whether it’s you or them or some inherent inconsistency with the rhythm. The other thing that’s a problem, of course, is the acoustics of the tower. I mean, we’re lucky with our towers. Well, I say we’re lucky, but we’re not lucky actually, we work really, really hard at it. We have steeple keepers who have spent years of their life up there trying to get the acoustics as good as possible for the ringers. Because if the noise of the bells is level and even all the way around the circle, then a lot of people can actually hear what they’re trying to do. But in many churches, you’ll get a bell that’s quiet or you’ll get a bell that odd struck. And that’s a problem as well, because if you haven’t got the hearing skills, you won’t be able to cope with that odd struckness. So the actual instrument that we work on is desperately important. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got people who care for it. You can’t make a brilliant tune on a on a lousy piano, can you? It’ll be…

LESLEY: Very true.

[00:32:53] Exercises to improve bell control

CATHY: There were some other exercises that you mentioned in your talk that I think it would be useful to talk about now. One of them was there was some Italian I remember.

COLIN: So Rallentando and Accelerando. They’re musical terms. So Rallentando to slow down, Accelerando, obviously to speed up. So to develop some bell control and bell control is an important part of being able to strike your bell in the right place, you need to be able to ring your bell more slowly and more quickly. So, that particular exercise just starts with ringing rounds. It can be on any number of bells and you issue the instruction, Rallentando, and the bells gradually space out further and further and further until they’re ringing incredibly slowly, but most importantly, still ringing accurately. And you see just how far you can push that. And it’s an amazing sound when it works properly and obviously in the opposite direction, it’s important to be able to control the bell at a faster speed as well. So Accelerando comes through the normal speed and gets to a faster speed. So you’re ringing some really fast rounds, and that’s quite a nice sound as well and exercises like that. I think it works for adults, the children really get enthused about things.

CATHY: It sounds like Harry Potter to me. [laughs]


STEPHANIE: Expelliarmus.

COLIN: Well, don’t drop the… That means drop the Sally doesn’t it?. I don’t know.

[00:34:19] Handbells

LESLEY: Can I mention handbells as well? Because I think they’re a very immediate you swing your arm and check the bell and it goes ting. So if people can’t get striking right on handbells, it’s going to be quite challenging for them to manage to strike well on tower bells. So practicing on hand bells,- things like learning how to lead and getting the handstroke gap right. So every two rows, there’s a space before the treble rings. It’s a sort of punctuation, almost. So understanding how that should sound and making a bell ring in the right place. If you can get that right on handbells before moving onto tower bells, it’s really useful.

STEPHANIE: Underrated because it’s also useful for method ringing as well.


STEPHANIE: Yeah. A lot of the university societies use handbells very effectively.

LESLEY: Yes, I ring quite a lot of handbells, and one of the satisfactions is that it’s always good striking. you just don’t ring if there’s not good striking. Put your bells down.

COLIN: When everybody’s, right?

LESLEY: I’m not talking about mistakes. I’m talking about the striking.

[00:35:22] Other tips for inexperienced ringers

CATHY: Do you have any other tips for inexperienced ringers?

LESLEY: If they want to improve their striking? Find a tower with a simulator or a dumbbell you can use and you can do the exercises yourself. Go to a tower where there’s better ringing and make it known that you want to improve your striking and they’ll be only too keen to help you, I think. Ring handbells. What else would you do?

STEPHANIE: Ask for feedback? Request feedback. Never get miserable when you get the feedback you get given is not what you want to hear.

LESLEY: Well, hopefully you get positive feedback, helpful feedback.

COLIN: But don’t expect immediate success either. Learning to ring well takes a very, very long time. It’s not something that you can pick up and be excellently good at in six weeks. So if you’re ambitious, you want to make progress, go out and find the opportunities, but be patient and consolidate at every stage.

CATHY: Thank you, everybody. That’s a wrap.


[00:36:25] Bonus section: When you can’t ring

CATHY: And now for a special bonus section of the podcast. Some ringers have shared with us what ringers can do when they’re not able to ring.

LOUISE: Hello, my name is Louise Booth, and I manage the bell maintenance at four Towers in the Docklands area of London and one in the City of London. One of the ways I am keeping myself busy whilst not ringing is to catch up on some overdue rope splicing projects. Across the towers there are some towers with good tops and poor tails, and vice versa. And thankfully I have a few spare ropes too. It’s a bit like one of those puzzles where you have to move the parts in the right order to make everything fit together. Whilst I’m up in the belfry, I’m also going to do a quick inspection on the bells. Check the clappers, wheels and stays. And I also contacted the Dove master, and they advised me that they had missing data on our bells. So I will be getting information on bell frames, bell diameters and bell turnings and things like that. So lots of useful things to do when not ringing. Another thing I’m going to do is to make a donation to the Loughborough Bell Foundry. I meant to do that when the request came out a few months ago, but I was too busy ringing to do it and forgot. I’ve got time on my hands now. I’m going to have a look at all the practices that I normally go to and the quarter peals that I was scheduled to ring and the occasional peal and all the money that I would have been paying in the pub for beer afterwards and to add all that up and make a donation to the Bell Foundry because we want the bells to be ringing out in the future and it’s the right thing to do.

 Another thing I’m going to do is to catch up on all the ringing administration that I’ve been putting off all these months. I’ve run out of excuses not to do them now because I can’t go out ringing. So first on the list is the risk assessments for all the towers I am responsible for. I’ve got hold of the template from ART quite some while ago, but never got around to completing it. Well, now is the time to get that done and dusted. And on a related note, I’m going to encourage all the members of my band to complete the online safeguarding course. If you can’t go to a practice well we can use the time to do the safeguarding training as well? Job done. Finally, if it gets really bad, if we have a long time when there’s no ringing and I’ve run out of all the non-ringing but still ringing projects, they’ll only be one thing left for me to do. I’ll have no other excuse. I’m just going to have to tidy and clean the house. Oh, please don’t let that happen.

DEBBIE: Hi, I’m Debbie Phipps from Lytchett Matravers, St. Mary’s Church. We have a band of about 16 ringers, mainly novices. Most have got as far as Level two in the ART scheme. I’m keeping in touch with them, two of us are either contacting them by phone or email each week and then I’m putting it together, summarizing what they’ve all said and sending that to everyone and that I do believe they really are appreciating just to hear from how the rest of the band are doing. I’ve also set some homework. The first week was how to make coils and how to release coils, and the second week was writing some of the more simple call changes. And so far I haven’t had any of those in. I’m not sure how much they’re doing the homework, but it’s there if they want to. So that I still have to find out if it’s a useful exercise. I have someone who’s been writing a crossword for us, but it is really only for our tower because it’s aimed at things that happen in our tower. Not everyone is doing that, but again, they’re appreciating it. So wait to hear again to see what’s actually working. At the moment certainly keeping in touch how everybody is on the email is certainly a big hit. Hope all is doing well everywhere else.

CATHY: Thanks to Louise and Debbie and also Lucy Chandhial, I hope she’s doing her method learning at home now that open church is canceled. Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to this episode.

 This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley Thomas and John Gwynn, Lesley Belcher, Sue Hall, Nick Boyd and the Society of Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing. There are openings for other roles within the production team. Contact me at FunwithBellspodcast at if you’re interested. If you’re in Britain and are interested in learning to ring, then please go to Ringing Teachers dot org or for hand bell ringers, HRGB dot org dot uk. Both websites have links to help you get started. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook at funwithbells. Next on Fun with Bells, I’ll be talking to Helen MacGregor about her ringing centres that she and her husband have at Tulloch and Alderney. And also we’ll be talking about handbell ringing.