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Getting comfortable

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin?” Older members will recall those words from Listen with Mother on the wireless (as we used to call it). The words came back to me while watching some of our less experienced members trying to get to grips with unfamiliar bells (some of them quite difficult) on the Branch Outing. It’s important to be comfortable when ringing. I don’t just mean the absence of discomfort (though that helps) I mean comfortable in the sense of feeling at ease with the bell. Some of the facial expressions that I observed suggested anything but comfort!

Partly it’s about relaxing (in an alert sort of way) but above all it’s about adapting to your bell – working with it rather than fighting against it. If you can do that, whatever your level of basic expertise, it will help you to ring better and with less effort. And there’s more to it than experience – some long standing ringers are tense, and some relative novices are not. Anyone can take positive steps to be more at ease when ringing.

Let’s start with speed. Left to itself, a bell will ring at constant speed. If the speed fits the ringing, then you only need the occasional nudge to keep the bell in the right place. Less exertion lets you ring with a lighter touch, so you can feel what the bell is doing, and you make smaller, more accurate adjustments. It creates a virtuous circle. If the bell’s natural speed doesn’t match the ringing, you have to force every blow into place, which takes effort and is less accurate. You might get this blow right, but if you set wrong speed for the next blow, you will be fighting the bell at every blow. It’s a vicious circle. It’s also hard work and not very comfortable!

The bell’s natural speed depends on how high it swings, which in turn depends on how hard you pulled it, and how far you let it rise. What you do at one stroke determines what the bell does on the next.

When you pull off, the speed won’t be quite right, so you need to correct it in the first few blows. If it’s too quick get the bell up a bit, and if it’s too slow check it a bit. But getting the bell in the right place isn’t enough, you must also wind down the effort needed to keep it there, so you can relax. You need to find the ‘zero effort speed’, at which nothing much would happen if you were to let go of the rope, with the bell still striking in roughly the right place. If you find you need effort on one stroke, try to adjust the speed so the next stroke needs less effort, by adjusting it to swing slightly higher or less high. When doing so, remember not just to modulate your pull, but also that you let the rope rise to the required height.

  Many ringers grip the rope at a fixed spot, and try to make all adjustment by varying how far their arms rise. You can do that to a degree, but a better way (a more comfortable way that requires less effort) is to adjust the rope length so that your hands always rise to a comfortable stretch when the bell is at the desired height. That gives you more time to feel what the bell is doing as the rope rises, and it puts your arms into the best position to make sensitive, accurate adjustments, both of which help you to relax, with no fear of things going wrong. Even half an inch on the rope can make a big difference to the feel of the bell, and your ability to relax with it. If you don’t regularly adjust your rope, practise doing so. Shorten (or lengthen) the rope until your hands go to a comfortable stretch, without too much effort, with the bell swinging at just the right speed. You may surprise yourself how little effort you can use to control the bell when the rope length is just right. Get into the habit of doing this adjustment whenever you catch hold.

If while you are ringing you feel the bell working against you rather than with you, don’t just keep fighting it, try to get everything back into balance so you can relax again. And if you are going to ring a method, always use the opening rounds to get comfortable at Rounds speed, before you need to speed to hunt up or down.

So far so good. Now let’s think about rhythm. The bell has a natural rhythm that you need to match in order to work with it. Your rhythm should allow you to feel what the bell ought to be doing, so you can feel any small deviations if it does anything different. Above all, the rhythm will help you to place the next blow confidently ‘in the same place’ as the last blow, without the need for external cues. You still need to listen and fit in with the other bells, but you need the stable base of being able to ring in the same place again.

Trusting your rhythm is also the best way to ring accurate handstrokes. If your hands rise to the handstroke with the same rhythm as they do to the backstroke, they will meet the sally at exactly the right place, and moving at the right speed. It’s more accurate than eyeing a spot on the sally and trying to catch it. You can vary this rhythm by making your hands rise a little earlier or later to make the handstroke a bit quicker or slower, for example to adjust to an odd-struck bell, or when dodging. The timing difference is tiny, and you have to do it by ‘feel’, in much the same way that you would if you were trying to throw a ball so it landed slightly nearer or farther from you.

So, to paraphrase Listen with Mother – ‘Are you are ringing comfortably? Then we’ll begin’.

John Harrison (Branch Training Officer)

Article originally printed in the Summer 2012 Sonning Deanery Branch Newsletter, 

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