The Tower Handbook

9.3: Running practices

The weekly practice forms the hub of the life of most successful bands. It is the time when you can focus on the needs of your members, not just on giving service. You can organise things and keep people informed (there is never enough time on Sunday). Don't let your practices drift into just a habit. Try to make them important and worthwhile events.

a: Should we cancel a practice if only a few ringers can come?

You can't do a lot of general ringing with two or three ringers, but could any of them benefit from some of the things listed in section 9.3b below? If you can find worthwhile things to do, it is better not to cancel the practice.

In any case, whenever you don't have a practice [85], put a notice on the door. Then anyone who does come (a visitor or one of your own ringers who has forgotten) will not hang around waiting.

b: What should we do if we meet short on practice night?

Even in the best run towers there are times when despite all the organisation, there are fewer ringers than bells at the start of the practice. Apart from holidays, there are many ringers nowadays whose working lives make it difficult to get to practices on time. Fewer ringers than bells may not be too much of a problem if you have twelve bells and only six ringers, but six bells and three ringers is quite different.

If you have too few to ring normally, there are still gainful things you can do for those present, providing you are prepared. You can turn the occasion into one of extra activity, rather than just a period of inactivity and discouragement. Some of the things we list below will suit your band while others may not. You could consider:

Ringing handbells You need handbells and someone to look after the ringing.
Practising raising and lowering Raising two or three bells is a useful stepping stone between raising one bell and raising all in peal. Raising and then lowering several times in succession is much better for learning, because you get another go while you can still remember what went wrong last time....
Bell handling exercises [86] Many people do things like setting ten times on the run while they are at the bell handling stage. These exercises are also good revision for people who have passed beyond this stage, especially on less easy bells.
Rope splicing A valuable skill for any ringer who takes time to practise. A splice can be put down and picked up when time is available, perhaps completing it over a couple of weeks. You will need some pieces of old rope and someone to get people started with the basics.
Ringing with a simulator As a single person activity, this is ideally suited to when there are not many people around. Ringing with a simulator is excellent training to supplement normal communal ringing. You will need a simulator head fitted and either have a simulator permanently in the tower or bring one regularly. If you only bring it occasionally, those are sure to be the weeks when everyone comes to practice on time.
Method theory Less experienced ringers often do not find the time to work at the theory of the methods they are trying to learn. If you have supplies of squared paper and pencils, and somewhere to write, they can use spare time before practice starts, with someone on hand to help if needed.
Tower clean up A little tidying and cleaning now and then prevents things getting too dirty or untidy. Concentrate on the places where improvement will show so your (few) ringers go away feeling they have achieved something worthwhile that the rest of the band will notice and appreciate.

c: Should the ringing master have a plan?

It is easy to get to the end of a practice feeling there are lots of things you ought to have done but did not get round to. There is never enough time, but if you plan in advance you will have a better idea of what you will be able to fit in. You may have to leave some things out to fit in others you feel are more important.

d: How do I plan a practice?

Think about the needs of the people who will be present and list some 'prime rings' (see section 9.3h) to meet their needs. If you don't know exactly who will be there, then allow some contingency for re-planning on the spot. Make sensible assumptions about how many learners you should have in each touch and then write down timings to see how long the touches will take. In a typical tower these timings should work. Modify them in the light of experience.

Arranging the next touch = at least 1 minute [87].

If you have time to spare, think how best to use it. If you don't have enough time, then decide which things are most important beforehand, rather than finding you have several unsatisfied ringers when the time comes to lower.

One word of warning. Planning a practice sounds easy, but it is not. Many tower captains give up and revert to playing it by ear on the night. That is fine if you have a brain that can keep track of what everyone wants and who has rung what, but many of us don't. It may work if your band's needs are not too great or complicated. With three ringers learning Plain Bob and six Surprise ringers happy not to learn anything, you can get away with three touches of Plain Bob followed by a course of Cambridge, repeated until you run out of time [88]. But many towers' needs are more complex than this.

e: How many learners can be in at once?

This depends on how insecure each individual is and on how steady the rest of the band is. You must balance two conflicting objectives.

Putting in one at a time helps stability, but reduces each learner's ringing time. There are two ways round this.

f: Should I place the band?

Some people get very heated about this. They resent not being free to choose which bell they will ring (or whether they will ring). The pros and cons are:



In most cases where training is the main theme of a practice, it is better to place the band. You do not have to place every rope individually. You could place some and then ask three people to fill in the remainder, leaving them to choose which they want. As a precaution, ask your ringers to let you know (quietly) during a practice if they feel they are getting left out, so you can do something about it before the end of the practice.

The case for placing the band is least in more advanced practices or where people are of similar ability.

If bands have not been traditionally placed in your tower, consider whether it would enable you to make better use of the time you spend practising. If not then don't worry. If it would, then consider introducing it, after explaining your reasons and seeking the support of the rest of the band.

And don't forget the minders. Placing the right person to stand behind someone in a touch could be as critical to its success as placing the ringers.

g: What should we ring on practice night?

Practice night is for practising, not just for any old ringing. It is the time for developing individual skills and creating the interest that will help develop your band. Apart from the basic methods like Plain Bob, the experienced members of your band should develop a repertoire of other methods they can ring. There are plenty of methods at all levels of difficulty and on different numbers of bells, from Plain to Surprise and more. See The Ringing World Diary, Standard 70 and other books for examples. Some will need studying, others most of you ought to be able to attempt after having them described, because they relate to things you already know. For example: Reverse Bob and Double Bob if you know Plain Bob, or Primrose if you know Cambridge. Ring methods from your repertoire regularly and periodically try to learn a new one to add to it.

Ring something you know you can ring well at least once during a practice, perhaps to set the standard at the beginning, or to round off on a good note at the end. Ensure that each ringer has at least one prime ring (see below).

h: What is a prime ring?

It is a touch which represents a challenge or a learning opportunity for at least one person ringing in it. Every ringer at a practice night should have at least one prime ring. Every touch at a practice night (except perhaps the first and last) should be a prime ring for someone [91].

i: What is a method of the month?

A method that most of the band agree to work on for a month, in order to learn it or ring it more confidently. This means those of you who are capable of doing so will put in the time to learn it and the ringing master will plan in a significant amount of time ringing it at each practice. At the end of the month it should enter your repertoire. Some bands like to ring a quarter peal of it to convince themselves they really do know it well enough. If a month is too short a time for you to master the sort of methods you want to learn, then extend the time. If you are bringing on members of a large band at different stages, then have two methods of the month, say Bristol for those who can ring Surprise and Single Oxford for those who can ring Plain Bob and Grandsire.

j: When should we stop treating ringers as learners?

That depends what you mean by a learner. You should never stop learning, and as a band you should support your members who want to progress at whatever stage they may be. The transition does not come at a particular step in technical skill, be it bell handling or method learning. The point you need to recognise is when a ringer ceases to need someone else to guide his or her development and has gained enough knowledge and confidence to make effective decisions about what to do next, and whether to seek help. This does not mean you cease to take an interest in their development, but you switch from telling them what they should be doing to asking what they want to do and offering suggestions. Encourage your ringers to start to take this responsibility as soon as possible, but recognise that it will be a gradual process. The transition will normally begin sooner with mature ringers than with youngsters, but not always.

k: Can we try something new?

Yes. A practice is a time to experiment. Ringing the same thing every week might lead to perfection but could also lead to staleness. Doing something new adds spice. Now and then, try something a little off beat or different.

There are plenty of possibilities depending on the experience of your band.

Don't assume the ringing master has a monopoly of good ideas. Encourage requests either before or during the practice [92]. If you agree to a request during the practice, schedule it for a couple of touches later so people can prepare for it. Don't worry if you try something that does not work. You can't win them all. If you never try you won't know whether you can do it.

l: What is a wish list?

If you have a black or white board in your tower, anyone at the practice can write upon it what they would like to ring that evening. Do it verbally if you don't have a board. The ringing master will try to fit in as many of the requests as possible, providing you have enough time and enough capable ringers. This is a good way for the ringing master to find out what people want and include their wishes in his or her plan. But don't over do it. You can only include so much ringing in the time available (see section 9.3d above). The list should not replace the ringing master's plan, or the more pushy types will get all their own way. And if too much goes on the list, you will all get used to most requests not being met, which defeats the objective.

m: Should we have a post mortem if some ringing fails?

Another controversial topic. Do not indulge in acrimonious attempts to pin the blame on someone. It serves no useful purpose and causes bad feeling. Better to say, 'Good effort, but we need to pay more attention to detail'. But if the conductor, or anyone else can say something constructive, aimed at avoiding the problem next time, then it is worth saying. Whether you say it to the whole band or to an individual depends on what you want to say.

n: Does it matter what practice ringing sounds like?

Yes, for two reasons.

You need not set such stringent standards as you would for a service. It is acceptable to struggle through difficult patches when you are learning a method, and the odd fire up is unavoidable. It is a practice after all. But prolonged floundering around is of no use to anyone and should be called round.

The standard you set yourselves for the ringing as a whole (when nothing is going wrong) should be very similar to the standard you set for services. How else can you improve your striking for services? Even when a touch is mainly to learn to ring a method, good striking by all the band makes it far easier for anyone who makes a mistake to spot that they have, and put it right. The sound of people who know what they are doing should be different from anyone going wrong. Sadly in many cases it is not!

o: Should we stop ringing if a stranger enters the ringing room?

This depends on what you are ringing at the time. If you have nearly finished a touch and the visitor looks as though he or she will not cause a hazard, then let the ringing come to a finish. But sometimes the appearance of a stranger ruins the ringers' concentration, and the ringing fires out. Don't leave anyone for more than five minutes before making an approach, and if the stranger looks intent on doing anything other than waiting for the ringing to stop, someone should see what he or she wants, even if it means stopping the ringing.

p: What should we offer visiting ringers?

Ask what they ring when they arrive and then include them in appropriate touches within your plan. If they cannot ring what you had planned, then it is courteous to offer them something they can ring. How much will depend on the time available and the number of other people you have to satisfy. Someone who stays for the whole of your practice should normally be offered at least two touches. Assuming your visitor is reasonably capable, use him or her as you would your own experienced ringers. That way your visitor gets more ringing and you relieve some of the load from your own ringers for filling in touches for the learners. If you are lucky, the addition of your visitor will enable you to try something for which you had not quite got a band. Large numbers of visitors can be a problem (or a blessing if you are very short). With a tower full you must make the best balance you can between hospitality and ensuring that your own ringers are not neglected.

q: How much ringing should each person have in a practice?

An experienced ringer will probably be ringing for most of the night. His or her experience will stabilise the bands. The less experienced will not ring in advanced touches. In a small band they may be ringing for at least a half of the time.

Inexperienced ringers who have recently learned, may not ring in touches where others like themselves need a good band around them. How much ringing they have will depend on how many others are competing with them for rope time.

It is ironic in such situations that those who most need lots of practice get the least ringing, but that's life.

r: Should we combine bell handling with the main practice?

Some people interleave general ringing with single bell practice for a learner, but this is poor use of everyone's time. The learner will only get a fraction of the available time and the rest of you will lose much of the available time too. The most positive aspect of doing this is that you will integrate the learner into the tower community a little earlier.

If you have plenty of space and more bells than you need to ring for the main practice, then you can run tied bell handling training in parallel with the practice. This deprives your pupil of hearing the sound of his or her bell, but it provides the social integration without the loss of time. It may also encourage more of your experienced ringers to become involved in the bell handling tuition, since they are there anyway.

With this arrangement you can do other things too. You can switch people between the two activities, so pupils at the stage of communal ringing can be taken to one side and given extra tuition if they develop handling problems (or just do exercises to fill in time). You can also have a pupil practice hunting on a ghost bell, ie a silent bell ringing in synchronisation with one of the other bells while hunting. The initial task is therefore to ring with one bell rather than to weave in between four or five of them.

s: Should practices be predictable?

The best things in life combine a predictable framework with and element of surprise. Ringing practices are no exception. The organisation needs to be very predictable. People know when to arrive, there is always someone with a key and always someone to run the practice. The ringing needs to be predictable as well. Most people learn new things over a period of a few weeks, and they will not do the preparation unless they are reasonably sure they will have an opportunity to practice whatever they are learning. This extends to your more experienced ringers too if you have a 'method of the month' (see section 9.3i).

But a little excitement does wonders for the spirit so be prepared to add in something a little bit different from time to time. For example:

Variants of familiar methods are good for the above, for example:

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