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Decisions, decisions, ... 5 – Method extension

Decisions (by Yvonne Hall)The Decisions include a complex section on method extension – how methods at different stages can be related. This is another area that can cause controversy, so let’s look at method extension and why it is criticised.

What is extension?

We recognise the likeness between some methods at different stages. They seem to form natural families and the common name that they share reflects this. Early in our ringing careers we met methods like Plain Bob and Grandsire, and when someone explained the pattern for relating together the versions for Doubles, Minor, Major, and so on we could see it fitted into a neat pattern. When we went on to learn methods like Little Bob, St Clements Bob or Kent Treble Bob we found that they too extended in a systematic way and the patterns were fairly obvious when pointed out. Because they seemed to make sense we probably didn’t realise that different methods extend in slightly different ways. If asked to describe the rules that make these intuitively obvious extension work for methods in general, most of us would struggle.

Why is it difficult?

Method extension is quite a complex business once you get beyond simple things like Plain Bob. There are several different ways to generate what seems like an obvious relationship when you look at the result, and it can be quite hard to work out which of the ways a method could extend will be possible or will produce a useful result. For many methods no one has discovered an obvious way to extend them, and often there isn’t one.

I won’t try to give a full explanation but you can get an idea if you imagine a lead of the method drawn on squared paper with the paths of the bells drawn in. Now notice where all the places are made – some are at the front, some at the back and some at various places in between. These places define the structure of the method (it’s why you can use place notation to specify a method). Now add some extra columns of squares on the right of the paper to accommodate more bells. The question that the rules of extension try to answer is: Where should all the places be to preserve the essence of the original method?

There are several possibilities. Places might remain the same distance from the front or from the back or they might maintain their relationship to the path of the Treble. As well as places moving within the longer changes, some new places will be added if extra changes make the lead longer. Which options make sense (and whether any of them will work) depends on the particular method, ie on the original set of places.

Decisions on extension

The Decisions describe mechanisms for extending a method to form another method at a higher stage, that is a set of rules for how to generate the structure of the extended method from that of the parent. This is useful given the technical intricacy of the subject. But the Decisions also impose several constraints on whether or not the result is permitted.

The first requirement demands that an extension relationship must work for an indefinite number of stages – So even if Minor extends successfully to Major, Royal, Maximus and so on, but fails at (say) 22 then the method can’t use that extension.

Other requirements specify various properties of the parent method that must be preserved in all of its extensions. I’ve simplified the wording to give a flavour. All extensions must preserve:

All of these features can contribute to whether or not methods at different stages feel related to each other, but should they all be considered mandatory?

Single step extension

Much of the content relates to extension by even steps (eg Minor to Major, Major to Royal, Major to Maximus, ...). As noted above, it is assumed that the number of hunt bells will be preserved (with their paths extended as appropriate) so the essence of the extension is about what the working bells do.

For extension by a step of one (eg Minor to Triples) the Decisions specify only one type of extension, from a single hunt plain method to a twin hunt method, with everything above the hunt bell moved up to fit.

According to the logic of the Decisions, Plain Bob Minor should extend to what we call Grandsire Triples, and it should be called Plain Bob Triples. The fact that we still call it Grandsire Triples is thanks to historical precedent – the Decisions acknowledge this as one of a short list of exceptions to the rule.

You might think that extending Plain Bob Minor to the method we know as Plain Bob Triples makes more sense. That might be because you’ve got used to it being that way, but it neatly demonstrates that there can be more than one ‘obvious’ way to extend a method. The reality is that there is no single ‘right’ way to extend a method.

Do we need rules on extension?

Given that ringers like the idea of sharing names between methods that seem related at different stages, and given that trying to work out how to do it can be quite complicated, there is a clear need for something to help do it, and it would certainly not be sensible to throw away all the work that has gone into trying to make sense of extensions and the relationships behind them. So better questions would be about:

It has been suggested that instead of the information about extensions being presented as rules to be obeyed, it could be presented as guidance to help people seeking satisfactory extensions to find them. This would recognise the fact that people may wish to use extension relationships other than the ones already described, and that in individual cases people may wish to make some compromises to get a workable extension.

If someone developed a new type of extension that looked like being more widely applicable, then it would be sensible to add it to the guidance so that others can benefit from the accumulated wisdom of those who have already used it.

Would it work?

The reason for having central standards for the whole ringing community is to help bring order and coherence. Rules do that but in a heavy handed way. Would relegating information on extensions to that role of guidance open the gates to chaos and confusion or would ringers use the freedom responsibly?

It’s easy to think of ways people can break any system, but experience suggests that the people who spend effort trying to break rules don’t normally do so when the rules are removed and they are trusted to be reasonable and considerate.

 John Harrison 2016 (Cartoon by Yvonne Hall)

See the current Decisions . Article first published in The Ringing World  in 2016 


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