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What is a simulator? RInging with a simulator

A simulator behaves sufficiently like something else to be useful, usually for training. Simulators help people learn to fly aircraft, to drive trains and to operate of complex industrial plant. They have realistic controls, a (hidden) model of the dynamics, and realistic feedback (visual, aural, tactile).

The picture shows a trainee with a bellringing simulator in the tower at All Saints Wokingham 

Bellringing simulators

Simulators for bell ringers have been around since the 1970s. The late Peter Cummins, built one and used it to develop his own ringing, and also to teach others. His early simulators (some of which are preserved in the Bellfoundry museum) used discrete electronic logic but modern simulators use software running on a general purpose computer. A practical simulator needs connecting to something physical for the trainee to 'ring'. Often this is a real bell with the clapper silenced and sensors on the wheel that detect the bell's rotation and send a pulse to the simulator when it would normally strike. The simulator uses this to trigger the sound, which is mixed it with the sounds of the other (simulated) bells, all sounding perfectly in sequence. The trainee has to ring the bell and adjust the timing of its swing to fit in with the sound of the other bells.

The simulator has several advantages: Training doesn't need a room full of (patient) ringers to ring the other bells. The simulated bells ring in perfect time, so the trainee only has to worry about his/her own mistakes. Ringing with a simulator as part of a training regime helps the ringer to develop a rhythmic style of ringing, and the ability to listen as the main feedback for accurate striking.

To a non-ringer the last benefit might not seem so obvious but it is. Skillful ringing requires a blend of rhythmic, aural and visual skills, which complement each other. But since we are visual animals visual input can dominate to the detriment of other senses. When learning to ring it can be tempting to rely too much on the visual cues from the movement of the other ropes, which leads to less accurate ringing. 'Ropesight' – making sense of the movement of the other ropes to work out what is happening around you – is a valuable skill for ringers, but the rope movement doesn't always accurately reflect the timing of the striking.

A bellringer needs several sets of skills, not all of which can be helped by a simulator:

Subsequent developments

Since the advent of the basic ringing simulator there have been many further developments, some of which had unexpected side effects.


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