The Tower Handbook

9.4: Ringing for services

a: Which Sunday services should we ring for?

Agree this with your parish priest. Normally it will include the best attended services on Sunday (nowadays usually the morning parish communion). It is desirable to ring for other Sunday services (if any) if you can raise enough people regularly. In a very busy parish ringing for all of them may prove impossible. If your church has a monthly baptism service, outside the normal parish services, you could consider ringing for this. It is often well attended (compared with say evensong) and since many of those present are not regular church goers, you can help give them a favourable impression of coming to church.

b: Which other services should we ring for?

Do you ring for services other than Sundays? Throughout the year, there are several special services in most churches and you could ask your priest whether you ought to ring for any of them. They may include: your patronal festival, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (see section 9.6f), Ascension Day, some saints days, and of course Christmas Day. Do you ring for early and late services at Christmas and Easter? Many bands do. Although ringing for midnight service at Christmas and before 8.00 communion on Christmas and Easter Day definitely count as unsociable hours, this may be acceptable to the neighbours once or twice a year on special days. If you have no such tradition, discuss with your priest how to introduce it.

You will also be expected to ring for weddings (see section 9.5) and perhaps funerals (see section 9.6f).

c: What if we can't get enough ringers for special occasions?

If your priest asks you to ring for special occasions always do your best to find a band. It can be difficult for people to fit it in with other work and family commitments, but it would be a shame to let the church down. Build up a network of contacts in other towers. Very often you may be able to import a couple of ringers to make up your numbers. Of course, in return your ringers may be asked to help them out when their bands are short handed.

d: How long should we ring before a service?

Local custom varies. Much less than half an hour is not very practical, though you may occasionally have to do it (eg if the previous service runs late). Many bands ring for about 45 minutes (40 minutes ringing if they stop five minutes before the service). If your current times suit everyone, then there is no need to change. If you have a lot of ringers and it is hard to give them all a fair turn in the time available discuss with your priest whether a longer ringing time would be possible. Conversely, if you have very few ringers so you all need to ring most of the time, a slightly shorter time with a prompt start might be better than people coming late since they know there won't be enough to ring at the start.

e: Should we ever cancel or change regular service ringing?

If there is no service then you should not ring, even if it breaks your routine. If your priest asks for no bells (perhaps the service is to be one of quiet contemplation) then you must comply. Make sure all the band know. Similarly if the service times change then so must your ringing times.

Holiday times can cause problems. Some parishes accept that things cannot be kept at full strength. Some choirs have a holiday in August [93]. If you find it hard to raise a band for evensong, discuss with your priest whether ringing could be scaled down, say only ringing for the morning service for that month. A fixed arrangement like this is better than ad hoc cancellations when you can't muster a band. Everyone knows what is happening. See section 9.3a.

But some requests are unreasonable. If you are asked to cancel ringing so the choir can have a 40 minute practice before the service, you are entitled to ask them to practice elsewhere or at a different time [94]. You would not ask the choir to cancel their service performance so you could practice. If you receive such a request then you have clearly not developed the right sort of understanding with the musical director and you need to work at it. For example, you would foster a spirit of give and take by stopping a few minutes early if asked, so the organist can play a longer piece before the service.

f: What should we ring for services?

Ring to the best of your band's ability. The best ringing is often when you ring a little inside the limits of your capabilities. Make it too hard and you can't cope, make it too easy and you become lazy and make silly mistakes. Ring the things you know fairly well, but be prepared to adapt. If it is going well ring something a little more demanding. If you are having an off day, keep it simple. Overall you must strike a balance. The quality must be maintained, but you will not be very popular with the other ringers if you stick to rounds and call changes when the band is perfectly capable of ringing a method well. See section 3.3 & section 3.4.

g: Who should ring for services?

All of your competent ringers. The raison d'etre of ringing is to proclaim the presence of the church by announcing worship [95] on Sundays and other special days. You should be able to rely on all your team to come and ring for service. If you do not have this level of support, find out why and then take steps to improve the situation.

Ringing for service demands a certain minimum standard that your least experienced ringers may not yet have reached, so it would be unfair to ask them to come and let them be aware they were failing to meet the required standard.

h: When can our learners join in?

As soon as they can ring rounds reasonably accurately and without losing any control of the bell. Since their main target is to become proficient enough to ring for services, try not to delay it too long.

i: Do we need to ring all the bells?

The more bells you have and the fewer ringers, the more likely you will have to answer this question. If you don't have a ringer for every bell you can't ring them all [96]. But what if you have enough, but some are inexperienced and cannot manage ringing on the higher number of bells? Naturally you and your parishioners like to hear all of the bells, but for service you should always try to ring well, so you may have to compromise. Don't push any of your ringers beyond their limit just to make up the numbers so you can ring all the bells.

It need not be all or nothing. If you can ring rounds acceptably on all the bells but not methods, why not have a couple of touches on fewer bells (so your more advanced ringers can ring methods) and then use all the bells for rounds. Or you could ring methods with a lot of fixed bells, eg ring Doubles on the 23456 of an eight with 1 permanently leading and 768 [97] covering.

j: How can we achieve acceptable ringing?

Follow the advice above. Perhaps your most difficult task will be judging whether the striking is good enough. If you have a mixed band, none of the ringing will be perfect and you must decide between what is an acceptable offering because it is the best you can do, and what is not good enough and should be called round. If necessary call round and start again, or stop and change the band or move people around.

Sections 3.4 talks about good striking. The whole band should be able to tell when the ringing is not good enough, but the responsibility for making the decision to call round rests with the ringing master.

k: What is a service touch?

It is the touch rung just before the service. Try to make it a good one. It is what most people will hear as they enter church or sit preparing themselves for the service. Place your better ringers in the band to ring something you can all do well. It is very easy to get to the last touch and find someone inexperienced has not had a fair turn. Give the less capable ringers their turn before the service touch. It should be seen as an honour to ring in the service touch.

You should normally lower your bells [98] after the last ringing on Sunday, even if you leave them up between services. So the lower is what people will hear, after the last touch. If your band is proficient at lowering this will be no problem. If you do not have a band to lower all the bells well enough, you may be able to lower them in two goes, rather than pull them down singly. Some combinations are more musical than others, eg:

On six bells12, then 3456.

On eight bells1234 then 5678 (both are true diatonic fours)
1357 then 2468 (reduces number of back-enders needed)
2357 then 1468 (as above but ends with a tonic cadence [99])
1468, then 357, then 2 tolled for the service bell.

l: How can we get the best results ringing call changes?

Place the band on bells they can each handle well. Allow the rhythm to settle before calling a change, and also allow it to settle between changes. If someone has difficulty, either don't affect them (eg Whittingtons on eight and back does not affect the second). If you have several unsteady ringers try to arrange that most of the time there is a steadier ringer between them. Aim for the more musical rows and when you reach one, dwell on it longer. If your band has difficulty striking some changes well (eg Tittums [100]) avoid them.

m: Which rows are most musical?

You could have a long debate about this one, but with a few rules of thumb you should be able to experiment and find musical rows yourself. Use your ears and your judgement. If it sounds pleasant to you it should to the people outside as well.

Our brains like to hear some order or pattern in music. The simplest forms of patterns are formed by rising or descending sequences, or a combination of the two. You can see this in some familiar examples below. Each is written out a bit like music. High notes are at the top, low notes at the bottom. Time runs to the right.




You can vary these to add interest and produce different rows with a similar overall shape that are also attractive. Here are some examples.

Almost Queens

Whittingtons +

Whittingtons ++

Popular ten bell rows also show marked patterns, for example:

Roller Coaster

Yeovil Octaves [101]

Rows ending in a tonic cadence [102] are also musical, ie
xxxx1468, or xxxxx468

n: How can we get to musical rows quickly?

This is more of a problem as the numbers of bells increases. Rounds to Queens on six bells needs three changes but on twelve it needs 15 (and on sixteen it needs 28). There are several ways you can do things faster.

o: How can we get the best results ringing methods?

Ring the methods you know and don't over stretch anyone. If you can use more musical touches then do so, but not at the expense of complication that might cause errors. In many methods you can't get a lot of music in a short touch. Generally ringing with a cover provides more music and a more stable rhythm, so this might be a good choice for the service touch.

p: How can we fit touches in the available time?

It can be annoying to finish the service touch with a lot of time to fill up with rounds but not enough to have time to ring another touch. It can be equally annoying to over run your allotted time. If your ringing room is open to the church, the organist will be displeased you are eating into his time slot. If you are high in the tower, your members in the choir will be impatient to get down to the vestry and don their cassocks.

Use the advice on timing in section 9.3d to choose a touch of the appropriate length. If you do not have one the right length, you can often improvise to extend or shorten another one. Different techniques work with different methods, but here are some examples. Also see section 13.11v.

q: Should we ring quarter peals for services?

A quarter peal is a very good way of marking a festival. People outside hear a longer, sustained piece of ringing so they know something is special. You should be able to settle down and ring really well, in a way that is difficult when you stop and start every few minutes. A quarter peal is a good length to fit before a service. On most bells it will take between 40 and 50 minutes, so if you start an hour before the service, you have some time in hand, even with a false start. Make sure those not ringing in the quarter know not to turn up for normal ringing. Also make sure others in the church know you will be starting early. Choirs often practise special music for festivals. If they have come early so they can practise and be finished before your normal ringing time, they will not be pleased when you start ringing twenty minutes earlier.

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