The Tower Handbook

11.5: Teaching speed control

Making accurate adjustments to the speed the bells swing is the key to full circle ringing, especially change ringing, but it is not always given enough emphasis. In this section we combine advice for developing rudimentary speed control during bell handling lessons, with the teaching hunting that is normally done much later. This is to emphasise the continuity of the concepts and practice of speed control that should run through a ringer's early training.

a: Why do we need to teach speed control?

Speed control is fundamental to ringing. To ring rounds properly each ringer must be able to make tiny changes in speed to match the bell's timing accurately to that of the other bells. To ring changes properly you must alter the bell's speed, blow to blow, by the correct amount to change place. All this depends on having full mastery of the bell, ie the ability to sense what it is doing and control it to achieve the required rhythm.

b: When should we teach learners about speed control?

As soon as they can handle safely. Speed control is important so encourage your trainees to develop a feel for the speed and how to control it as soon as possible. Extended practice without any attention to speed can encourage a drifting style where the bell rings the ringer and not vice versa. He or she should be encouraged to ring at a constant speed and at different speeds, and you should comment on deviations from whatever speed is being rung (eg letting the handstroke go over way too far before realising what is happening).

This practice increases confidence in controlling the bell at different levels, not just the easy condition when it is swinging well over the balance. Competence at raising and lowering greatly helps speed control.

c: What should we teach learners about speed control?

This depends on how far they have progressed. In the early stages speed will be erratic as they learn to control the bell. As well as keeping the bell up without banging the stay, make sure they aim for (and eventually achieve) good speed control. This is like learning to cycle in straight lines, without falling off. Introduce speed changes while teaching bell handling: ring steadily at different speeds on demand, ring hand and backstrokes at different speeds, ring to a fixed beat. Use a simulator or metronome, or beat orchestral style. (A simulator is the best method once the trainee has developed rudimentary control, since it is nearest to real ringing and encourages the trainee to use hearing to control speed.) Emphasise speed changes when you teach dodging and hunting.

d: When should we teach learners to dodge?

As soon as they can confidently ring at different speeds. It will help develop the ability to change speed rapidly and reliably. It will also help counter the imbalance between handstroke and backstroke that some learners develop. If they can dodge, they will be able to respond to requests to open or close handstroke versus backstroke.

Dodging can be taught initially on a solo bell, and then with one other. At this early stage the 'correct' interval is not important. The focus is purely on being able to ring repeatedly under and then over another bell on consecutive strokes, without losing control or using so much energy that the task becomes impossible to sustain. Later, usually after ringing with others in rounds, the actual interval also becomes important, as does the ability to keep in the right place while dodging and not drift too wide or too close overall.

e: What is the best way to teach hunting?

There is no one right answer, but you should get better results if you build up the necessary skills progressively. Like dodging, it is best to lay the foundations before your pupil starts to ring with other ringers (which is why the topic is included in this section).

Introduce the plain hunt rhythm [132] as an extension of teaching speed control. If your trainee is familiar with ringing this rhythm, then real hunting with other bells will be much easier.

Hunting needs a combination of bell control, place awareness, rhythm, ropesight, and listening. You can start to develop the first three of these skills before you introduce ringing with other ringers.

f: What is the best number of bells to teach hunting?

There are two sorts of difficulty.

On balance, a small number of bells is better because it simplifies the complexity. Although the increased physical effort may make the initial stages harder, this can be turned into an advantage, since it enforces the need to make conscious speed changes, rather than just look for the next bell and follow it.

You can introduce complexity gradually by hunting on progressively more bells. As an alternative, some people use methods where the treble only goes part way to the back. In Bastow it goes to 2nds, in St Helens ;(Cloister) to 3rds and in Little Bob to 4ths. Ringing Bastow Minor on the treble for example, the rhythm is of six bells (so it needs less effort), the place counting is minimal (1 ' 2 ' 2 ' 1), and the ropesight is intermediate (all bells are involved, but only one at once under the treble). Of course to do this, the rest of your band must be able to ring Bastow, etc reliably. There is no point ringing a special method to 'help' the Treble then making it harder because of mistakes.

g: Should we vary the order of the other bells?

Yes, but at the right time. Whether they learn the numbers or not, novices become familiar with the visual sequence in which they meet the bells when hunting (from the same bell). This makes things simpler while they get the speed changes sorted out, but left too long it will undermine their need for ropesight and limit what they can ring. Warn your trainee that the order will change during the touch, and then swap a pair of bells over when the ringing has settled. Quietly swap a coursing pair when they are at the back (or any other pair so long as you agree how to indicate to the ringers concerned when to do it). Let the ringing settle again before changing another pair. If your trainee is completely thrown by this, then stop and explain.

You can achieve a similar effect by moving the trainee on to ringing the treble to a method. This is fine if it works, but because the order changes all the time, it is a bigger step to take. With individual swaps you can control the difficulty, depending on progress.

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