The Tower Handbook

11.8 Teaching method ringing

See section 11.5 for teaching hunting and dodging which we treat as basic techniques, rather than methods.

a: What are the key elements of teaching method ringing?

There is much more to method ringing than learning a blue line (or any other means of remembering the work). An experienced method ringer uses many complementary techniques (some of them subconsciously) in order to remember the method, work out what to do, to see what the others are doing, survive mistakes and lapses of concentration, and so on.

There is an important distinction between teaching methods and teaching method ringing. You can't teach all methods because there are too many. Aim to teach the techniques and skills that can be applied to learning and ringing any methods. Naturally in the process you will teach some actual methods. If you do it properly your trainee will ring these methods well and will also be able to go on and learn other methods and ring them reliably.

b: What about learning the numbers?

This is something people argue fiercely about. Any simple answer misses part of the picture, because the answer is not simple.

Methods are all about inter-weaving paths of bells, never colliding and always fitting perfectly. To understand them fully you have to get involved with the numbers and the interlocking patterns. But you don't have to do it all at once. Many ringers never do it all (but they might understand more with a little help).

To most people 'learning the numbers', means memorising the order in which one's bell follows the others. In fact this is only part of the story of 'how the method works, and it can be distracting at some stages of learning. The table summarises the pros and cons of putting the main [139] emphasis on learning, and ringing by the numbers, at different stages.

Stage Pro Con
Learning to hunt Avoids need for ropesight [140] Harder to count places.
'Rope following' discourages smooth rhythm
Consolidating hunting Awareness of coursing order Can create inflexibility & over dependence on others
Learning simple methods Awareness of method structure More to learn.
May displace other aspects.
Learning more advanced methods Provides extra landmarks More to learn.
Consolidating method ringing (all stages) More awareness of method structure.
Help keeping right.
Ringing on higher numbers Supplements more difficult ropesight
Learning to conduct Necessary to check what is happening

This list is necessarily simplified. The main messages it conveys are:

c: When should we set a learner's sights on method ringing?

Sow the seeds when you are teaching bell handling, before your pupil starts ringing with others (see section 11.5a-c). If you are a method ringing band, your student's goal from the word go, should be to be able to ring (simple [141]) methods. Explain things you teach in terms of how they will eventually contribute to this. Explain (in simple terms as appropriate) some of the things the rest of you are doing.

d: How soon should we start to teach people methods?

You can teach some theory while their practical ringing is at an early stage. See The Tutor's Handbook for a suggested plan. You should teach the dynamics of hunting at the bell handling stage. Teaching to hunt with other bells (live or with a simulator) should follow naturally from teaching and practising dodging and call changes, as soon as they can be performed reasonably accurately without excessive stress or worry. Teaching to ring methods inside should follow when hunting is confident on different bells with the other bells ringing methods.

e: What methods should we teach first?

The simpler the better. Remember you want to make small steps at each stage. Most people start with Plain Bob Minimus, Grandsire Doubles or Plain Bob Doubles. Each has its merits. Ringing with a cover provides some extra stability and adds one to the number of bells ringing so the speed changes are less when hunting and dodging. After these, your direction will depend on your tower. If you have eight or more bells, pushing on with Bob Minor, Bob Triples, etc. makes sense. In a five or six bell tower, you would probably branch out earlier to things like Little Bob, Reverse Canterbury Pleasure, St Martins etc.

f: Is Grandsire a 'dead end method' to teach?

In some traditional towers, Grandsire is taught as the first method, but some people feel strongly that it is a bad method to start with because it does not lead naturally to most of the standard methods. If Grandsire is taught exclusively [142] this is true, but you should never allow your students to stagnate. If you have prepared the ground well, the first method should not take an inordinate time to master, and you will be able to move to something different.

On balance, start with Plain Bob if you can, but teach both Grandsire and Plain Bob fairly early, because both are important items in any ringer's repertoire. Plain courses of Grandsire Doubles are no more complex than Plain Bob Minimus, the main difference being getting used to dodging 'the other way round' in the odd positions. If you are short of inside ringers but have two capable of hunting fairly steadily, then Grandsire Doubles is a sensible method to ring as well as Plain Bob Minimus.

g: Which bell should we put people on for their first methods?

Whichever they are most comfortable to handle. Depending on the weight and go of your bells, this may be near the front or the back. In any case, make sure they move round and ring different bells as soon as possible. This will give them varied experience of the feel of manoeuvring different bells as well as deterring mental habits that only work from one bell.

h: Should learners write out methods before ringing them?

Compulsion is not fashionable in our society, but you should certainly encourage your learners to prepare thoroughly, and that includes looking at things on paper. Explain what and how you write out when learning a new method. Ask people to do things in advance, and then take an interest in the results by asking questions about what they have done.

i: What is the best way to teach a method?

There are different ways of learning methods, see section 13.8b-c. Introduce most of them to your learners and make sure they know how they relate to each other. For 'before you ring' reminders, a combination of blue line and spoken work order is often most effective, but when they progress to calls, drawing a section of method structure over the treble may be more effective.

j: Should we ignore striking while people learn a method?

Yes and no. You will not get perfection when people are stretching their abilities doing something new so don't expect it. But you should emphasise the need to strike as well as possible, especially since poor striking will undermine everything else making it harder to see what is happening and feel the rhythm.

k: Why do some people take so long to learn basic methods?

Many people struggle with simple methods like Plain Bob Doubles for months or even years with little sign of improvement. Some eventually manage to progress. Many give up ringing, and can you blame them if they are getting no sense of achievement with something that other people can do easily? Do you throw them in at the deep end – see picture?

The four criteria for success in method ringing we list in section 11.8n affect each other. If your pupil doesn't know where his bell now is, he won't know what to do to get it where it should be. If she only vaguely knows the method, she will lose her place when something else goes wrong. With no confidence, he will panic and put himself wrong if anything unexpected happens. Without full command of her bell, it will rarely go where she intended, and each blow will start with the errors left over from the previous one.

Don't assume your pupil has all the insights you have gained. There are probably many things you do without thinking to help you ring methods. These may not be intuitive or even comprehensible to your pupil. Be sensitive to the gaps in understanding and help him or her to understand the different aspects of ringing a method.

Showing someone the blue line (or the circle of work) without help and advice on all the other aspects of method ringing is like teaching people to swim by throwing them in the deep end and just telling them to follow the blue line on the bottom to the other end.

l: How long should people take to learn to ring methods?

This will vary with the individual but more significantly, it will vary a lot with the way he or she has been taught. Basic method ringing is not complex if explained and introduced in simple steps. Some bright people pick up the elements very quickly and may find themselves ringing something new every week. In contrast, some struggle with plain hunting for literally years. Of course, learning time should not be measured in years or months, but in terms of the number of hours on a bell rope. Ringing three times a week is an obvious advantage compared to only once.

Many people supposedly trying to learn methods face the problem of having not developed adequate bell control. Learning what to do does not make much sense if you can't make the bell do it. In fact the two problems feed on each other in a vicious circle that makes progress painfully slow.

m: Can we tell learners too much?

You can tell them too much at the wrong time.

n: How should we judge success in teaching method ringing?

At the start of this section, we said you should aim to teach the techniques of method ringing, rather than just teaching particular methods, though obviously in the process you will teach some methods. You and your trainee have succeeded when he or she:

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