The Tower Handbook
11.10 Teaching rhythm and good striking
a: Can you teach someone to strike well?
You can't pump the skill into people's heads like you could teach them the words of the Lord's Prayer, but that is true for many things. You can offer useful techniques, you can expose them to good striking and you can provide sustained advice and constructive criticism of their efforts. Best of all you can show them you value good striking in your own and other people's ringing.
b: When should we start teaching learners about rhythm?
While they are learning bell handling. Start as you mean to go on. When they start to ring with others, there will be a strong temptation to abandon rhythm and rely too much on correction. Ropesight is very useful at this stage (providing the other bells are all in the right places) but do not let it overshadow the main skill you are trying to encourage, ie changing the speed of the bell swing to move it from place to place in the sequence. Letting them ring with a simulator is very useful because they can only do that by rhythm.
c: What factors make good striking harder or easier?
A good rhythmic style of ringing by each member of the band produces good striking, but some things make this harder, even if you are trying.
- Ringing an odd struck bell
An even physical rhythm will strike it alternately late and early every time.
'Ringing by eye' will do the same.
Ringing with an asymmetric rhythm to compensate saps concentration and reduces the margin for handling any errors.
- Ringing with (other) odd struck bells
Their ropes will continually tempt you to distort the rhythm.
They will completely mislead anyone 'ringing by eye'.
- Ringing a badly going bell
If it drops you need more effort, reducing the margin for handling any errors.
If the frame moves the unpredictability makes an even rhythm harder.
- Ringing with other ringers who are unsteady.
This disrupts the overall rhythm making it harder for anyone to conform to a common rhythm, because there isn't one.
- Making mistakes.
This interrupts the rhythm and disrupts other people's concentration.
d: Which bells are best for learning a good rhythm?
Different bells are good for learning different aspects of rhythm. Don't let your learners become too familiar with one bell. Keep them moving so they experience the subtle differences of different bells and learn to adapt to them, rather than falling into a rigid style of their own.
- Medium weight bells
Start with them. They are easier to ring. Most ringers have enough reserve strength in their arms to handle mistakes, but the bell has enough inertia to be tolerant of slightly clumsy handling. This combination is good for reducing the level of force applied, relaxing and learning to feel what the bell is doing. But move them on to more challenging bells before they stop learning.
- Heavy bells
Ringing heavy bells forces them to plan ahead and rely more on the bell's rhythm. They should also do this with medium weight bells, but may be able to get away with using a bit more force instead. Also the longer stroke caused by a large wheel, and the slower rise when ringing at or below the balance forces adaptation to a wider range of 'stroke rhythms'. See section 13.3c.
- Light bells
Moving to, and mastering, progressively smaller bells is an important discipline for any developing ringer. They have to rely much more on imposing their own rhythm and it forces them to be delicate and measured in the way they handle the rope. Encourage them not to 'over-pull and wait', ie swing the bell very fast and spend a large portion of the stroke beyond the balance. This is the least reliable sort of rhythm.
We have used the terms 'heavy' and 'light' because there are no hard dividing lines. In general, bells of 3 - 8cwt would be considered medium weight. Much less than this, especially with a flighty rope, will test light-bell handling skills. The heavy end is more dependent on physique, technique and what is being rung. For someone of average build, heavy-bell handling skills would be needed to cover on a 15cwt bell, or turn in a 10cwt bell to minor. For a child or someone of slight build, the figures would reduced.
e: What conditions help develop a rhythmic ringing style?
To develop the physical aspects of rhythm requires a combination of:
- The right approach by the ringer.
They must be relaxed but alert. They must understand the role of rhythm. See section 13.3d.
- Predictability in the behaviour of the bell.
If the bell is erratic it discourages the ringer being rhythmic.
- Time to feel what the bell is doing.
ie time to adapt to it within the rise or fall time of the rope. This is easier when ringing with long strokes.
- Absence of distracting factors.
Demanding ropesight, demanding methods, sudden commands or interjections all potentially detract from the rhythm.
- Feedback and encouragement.
Knowing how well one's rhythm is fitting in. This should come partly from listening, but also from the tutor and/or the minder.
Some of these conditions can be provided during solo bell handling, some while ringing with a (good) band, but one of the most effective ways is to use a simulator. With a simulator, it is impossible to ring accurately (or even near accurately) without using some rhythm, there are no distracting ropes and ringing against the metronomic beat of the other bell sounds gives extremely good feedback on accuracy.
f: What exercises can we use to help develop rhythm?
Noting the conditions listed above, these exercises should be helpful.
- Slow ringing to a count or with a simulator
It encourages precision. Near the balance there is a greater contribution from the ringer. Slower ringing should be tidier ringing, making a steady rhythm easier to achieve.
- Ringing at different speeds on demand 
This helps to develop fluency of handling style. It helps your pupil to feel what the bell is doing, as well as what he or she is doing to it.
- Saying dong
When ringing a single bell, ask the ringer to say 'dong' at the same instant the bell strikes. This makes the ringer think of the swing from one stroke to the next as a whole rhythmic unit (with the strike part way through it), rather than merely as the empty gap between two isolated and short lived events called pulling on the rope. (This is also listed as a listening exercise, but used here for a slightly different purpose.)
Some people are shy about doing the dong exercise, but it is worth doing. You shouldn't need it a lot but everyone should have a go at it some time.
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