The Tower Handbook
13.3: Learning to ring rhythmically and strike well
a: Are rhythm and good striking the same thing?
No, but they are related. Each ringer needs a good rhythm (and accurate style) to strike. But you could ring with a very even rhythm in the wrong place! A well developed sense of rhythm and the ability to use it effectively are important for good striking, but not the whole story.
b: What are the essentials of good striking?
Good striking by the whole band means the overall sequential rhythm of all the bells striking is smooth and even. For this to work you must each make your bell fit into this overall rhythm, ie you must ring at exactly the same speed as everyone else and ring exactly one beat slower or faster when changing place. The practical things you must do to achieve this are:
- Make sure you have a sensible rope length, are ringing a bell you can handle and know the method.
- Try to do everything smoothly and predictably.
- Learn what the correct bell movement feels like so you can detect any deviations from it and anticipate the need to correct.
- Listen carefully to help fine tune your rhythm to fit in with the others.
- Beware of sudden corrections that can disrupt your rhythm.
c: What exactly do we mean by rhythm in ringing?
Rhythm is an internalised beat like a metronome. Rhythm is the heartbeat of ringing and ringing without rhythm is dreary and distressing. At least three different aspects of rhythm are important:
- Blow to blow rhythm
This is the rhythm formed by successive blows of different bells (and the open handstroke gap). It is the yardstick that helps you hear the accuracy of individual blows. It also sets the time you must add to, or take from, the stroke to stroke rhythm when hunting up or down.
- Stroke to stroke rhythm
This is the rhythm formed by successive blows of one bell. Each ringer must be able to feel whether the bell is swinging to this rhythm as expected and make corrections so that it does, or else the ringing becomes unpredictable and ragged.
- Within-swing rhythm
As the bell swings from one stroke to the next, it speeds up and slows down in its own characteristic way. You must match this exactly to be able to feel what it is doing and control it smoothly. If not, you will jerk the rope or it will go momentarily slack. To ring different bells you need to be able to feel these different rhythms and adapt to them.
d: What is ringing by rhythm?
Ringing by rhythm means that the next blow is a natural continuation of the ones before. The start of each swing occurs naturally without hesitation. Ringing by rhythm produces smooth ringing that can survive disturbances. You can't ring purely by rhythm as you need something to feed back whether you are striking in the right place. Then you can make small corrections to the rhythm. You can make corrections by eye or by ear, but ear is more accurate. In contrast, if you wait until you see what the bell in front is doing before committing to the next swing, you will produce less smooth ringing, that is less resistant to disturbances.
e: How does ringing heavy bells help develop rhythm?
It makes you plan further ahead in the way you handle the bell, to control the greater weight effectively. You must adjust your pulling and checking for what you want to do at the following stroke, as well as at this stroke.
f: How does ringing light bells help develop rhythm?
Very light bells are quite a challenge for most ringers. They swing more quickly and are very sensitive to any handling blemishes. You must supply much more of the rhythm, especially during the time the bell is beyond the balance.
g: Are there any golden rules?
You can't boil ringing down to a few rules that guarantee success, but here are a few important things you might find helpful. Keep them at the back of your mind, especially when things seem to go wrong and you are not sure why.
- Learn to trust your rhythm.
Whether you are conscious of it or not, your sense of rhythm is essential for accurate ringing. Your own rhythm (and the natural swing of the bell) help you ring predictably, but you must make corrections to keep in line with the other bells. Too much correction destroys the rhythm. Striking can get worse when people try too hard. When you first learn to ring, your rhythm and co-ordination take a while to develop, so in the early stages you will be continually correcting. This is normal, but you must pass through this stage, a bit like wobbling when learning to ride a bike.
- Feel what the bell is doing.
Even with good rhythm, listening and ropesight, you will be 'behind the game' if you do not feel what your bell is doing. At every stroke, feel whether the bell is rising at the time and speed you were expecting. Be prepared to let it rise a fraction more or less in order to compensate if it is not.
- Beware of over working.
Ringing most bells should not be hard work, but the harder you pull the bell at one stroke, the harder you will have to check it at the next.
When you check hard, it is very easy to fall into the trap of pulling hard as well. That gives you a problem on the next stroke, and you get into a vicious circle. Keep your cool – see picture.
Of course you don't realise this is happening, you just think the bell is taking a lot of effort.
Once you get sucked into this cycle of heavy pulling and checking, it is hard to break out of it. If you relaxed at any stroke, the bell would go over and bang the stay, possibly breaking it. The secret is to reduce the effort you put in over a few strokes, by deliberately pulling less than you have just checked. You can't do one without the other.
- Try to reduce the amount of effort you put in all the time you are ringing (even if you are ringing well within your strength limit), and you will find over pulling is less of a problem. Of course you can't reduce the effort to zero, since you need a little in hand at each stroke to give you the freedom to check a bit more or less than normal, to keep in time. But many people habitually use a lot more force than they need.
- Don't fight it - correct it.
If you are continually struggling to stop your bell ringing too wide (or too close) then something is wrong. Don't keep fighting the symptoms, try to correct the cause of the problem. The commonest problems are:
- Rope too long (or too short) ,
- Arms not rising high enough,
- Sally being snatched too soon (or caught too late),
- Starting to pull down before the bell has risen to the top of the stroke,
- Not pulling all the way down at backstroke.
Some of these need a physical change, like moving your hands on the rope. All of them involve some change in the way you move your arms and hands, ie your handling style. Unless you get these right, so you and the bell are in harmony, you will continue to struggle. It is not worth the effort. Far better to get it right and the result will sound better. If you are not sure what is giving you a problem, ask someone to watch you and suggest improvements.
- Beware of over correction.
When you realise you are striking not quite in the right place, you need to make a correction. But the correction needed is usually quite small and it is easy to overdo it, which means you will over shoot and be in the wrong place again, but in the other direction.
- For every correction, you usually need a counter correction.
If you ring in three and a half's place for several blows, you are in the wrong place, but you are ringing at the same speed as everyone else. If you weren't you would not stay in the same place, but get progressively later or earlier. To get back into 3rds place you need to speed up, but if that is all you did, you would then be going faster than everyone else so next time you would be in two and a half's place and so on. As soon as you are in the right place, you need to reverse the correction you have just applied (stop yourself shooting straight through). The bigger the correction you make, the bigger the reverse correction needs to be.
- Try to ring near the 'zero effort speed'.
Always aim to use as little of your available effort as possible for staying in the right place at the right speed. By adjusting the length of your rope, and or your overall stance, you will find that you can vary the speed at which you ring most naturally.
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