The Tower Handbook
11.9 Teaching ropesight
a: What is ropesight?
To many people, ropesight is 'seeing which bell to strike over', but it is much more than that. Ropesight involves looking at the ropes as a whole, and picking out useful information from what is seen, for example:
- The bell in front of you
- The bell behind you
- Where the treble is
- Which bell is leading or lying
The first of these is 'the bell to strike over', and a common hint for finding it is to 'follow the bell that follows you'  , which is the second in the list.
Ropesight is an important skill. Without it change ringing becomes unreliable and error prone, since ropesight is the main source of prompts and checks about what to do next, and clues about how to correct mistakes.
b: Can you teach ropesight or does it just happen?
Ropesight is not as mysterious as some people make out. Many ringers pick it up with ease. That is just as well, since a lot of people don't teach it. So anyone who doesn't pick it up feels left out and inadequate.
As a teacher you can help people acquire effective ropesight in several ways.
- Teach specific techniques. See section 13.5e. Use the exercises described in section 11.9g.
- Encourage them to develop good looking habits, looking at all ropes and not getting fixated on individual ones.
- Don't let other aspects of their ringing overwhelm them.
c: When should we teach ropesight?
Start teaching it before it is needed. At the bell handling stage, include exercises that involve eye co-ordination, eg dodging with another single bell. This is particularly important if your trainees ring rounds with a simulator before they ring with other ringers (see section 11.5c), since it introduces the complementary visual element.
d: Does learning the numbers help develop ropesight?
If you know which bell to follow, then you don't need ropesight to pick it out. This can make hunting easier to start with since it removes one thing to do. But the trainee can get hooked on looking at single ropes rather than developing the habit of 'looking wide' to see all the ropes and pick out the right ones. You can encourage a more visual style by pointing, rather than saying a number if you need to indicate bells. For example you may point to a pair and say 'those two' or 'over here', which narrows down the field but does not remove the need for the trainee to separate the two visually (and therefore stay in control rather than just doing what you say). See section 12.2k.
e: What conditions make ropesight easier or harder?
The more ropes there are, the harder it is to sort them out. The rope circle is also important. The wider angle of view you need to see all the ropes, the harder it is, and the greater the temptation to turn your head to look at individual bells. Once you do this it is only a matter of time before you look the wrong way and throw yourself out by trying to follow the wrong bell. When teaching the early stages of ropesight, try to provide a good angle of view, ie not too wide.
Average angle of view for each ringer
Excessive angle of view for one ringer
Very good angle of view for one ringer
People who wear strong glasses may have difficulty with ropesight at wide angles. See section 13.5c.
f: How can we help people to develop ropesight?
- Teach them ropesight techniques. See section 13.5e.
- Start teaching ropesight before the pupils needs to use it to ring changes. Encourage them to practise while not ringing, see below.
- If possible let them cover before ringing changes to get used to ropesight without the simultaneous need for hunting.
- Make the ropesight easy when they start ringing changes. Restrict the number of bells by giving them a bell with a good angle of view.
- Don't force them to ring changes relying on someone telling them which bells to follow all the time. Looking where one is told is not ropesight and feeling lost all the time is not good for confidence.
- Don't let them go too long plain hunting before you start to change the coursing order, either by giving them different bells, by swapping other pairs or by ringing a suitable method around them.
- If they develop bad habits like swinging the head round to look at individual bells, remind them they should see all the bells, all the time.
g: What exercises can help people develop ropesight?
- Ropesight while not ringing
Ask your pupil to stand next to you and tell you about the ringing by looking at the ropes. Whether you are ringing or not, ask who is leading or lying. When you are covering ask who you are following, which is a combination of seeing the bell in front of you and the last of the other ropes. When you are ringing a method, ask when you are at the front or the back, who you dodging with, who you are following, who you turn from the lead, and so on. With this exercise you can quite safely have 'all the learners in at once' by allocating each to an experienced ringer.
- Ropesight with call changes
Call the bells into some random order and then ask each bell in turn to call themselves from the lead to the back. To do this they must look around and see who is following them, but since they are in control they can take as many or as few blows as they need to identify each one. This also gives young ringers in particular the satisfaction of having called something.
- Ropesight while covering
Covering is probably the most valuable introduction to ropesight when things are changing. Assuming you have taught your pupil to cover by rhythm and listening, the extra task of spotting the bells as they come up to the back is not confounded by either being in the wrong place (which makes ropesight harder) or by trying to hunt the bell at the same time (which can use up all the concentration).
- Ropesight in progressive hunting
Start with small numbers and progressively increase the number of ropes involved.
- Ropesight on different bells
Like bell handling, ropesight matures better with experience of ringing different bells. With plain hunt this is easy, but even with the other bells ringing a method it doesn't have to be the Treble that plain hunts. The rest of you may need to think a bit harder to ring Plain Bob with say the 4th in the hunt, but try it; it will add variety to your practice.
h: How can we make ropesight easier in the early stages?
- Teach good bell control and rhythm.
If the bell is pretty well in the right place, then ropesight is far easier.
- Give clues.
Help them to anticipate problems like: expecting a bell to make 2nds over them in Plain Bob, ignoring bells once they have passed them. (When hunting you only meet each bell once going up or down.)
- Put your learner on a bell 'in a corner'.
This narrows the angle of view needed to take in the other ropes (see section 11.9e).
- Put your learner on the Treble or Tenor.
This means all the other ropes are 'on the same side' (especially if you ring the front six of an eight or ten). Whether you choose the Treble or Tenor depends on the weight of your bells. Note that the Treble can be an inside bell (see section 11.9g - final item).
i: What problems do people have with ropesight?
Here are some common ones with suggested advice.
||Panic degrades most of our mental abilities, and ropesight is no exception. If people have been told ropesight is difficult, they may be overawed by it.
||Emphasise that ropesight is a learnable skill that can be developed by practice. Remind them of the basic techniques.|
|Arms in the way
||Not seeing ropes to the side, or sticking the head out to peer round the arms just before pulling off.
||Encourage looking all the time, not just when the bell is near the balance and the arms are close to the face.|
|Looking at the wrong ropes
||Looking at individual ropes (sometimes the wrong one) and then locking the vision onto it to the exclusion of others.
||Encourage a broad view taking in all the ropes, and resisting the temptation to latch onto individual ones.|
|Clinging to the last rope
||Looking (only) at the rope for most of the stroke after it has been followed.
||Encourage moving on as soon as possible, and certainly after pulling off after the other bell.|
|Looking up and down
||Remnants of staring at the feet and/or following sallies up to the ceiling. Little time is left for seeing the other ropes.
||Discourage vertical movement. Suggest fixing the gaze at about face level|
|Distraction caused by handling problems.
||If you are struggling with a physical skill, the mental ones will suffer neglect. (This is very common).
||Decide what the handling problem is and see how to solve it.|
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