by David W Struckett, Northern Branch Training Officer

Or what to do with an absolute beginner.

In view of the recent interest in ITTS and the teaching of recruits to the Exercise, the following notes are offered by a tower captain as an example of a successful sequence of stages to teach handling. Of course it's only one person's brief notes: all teachers include their own particular variations, only some of which are indicated here. Many other writers have contributed to the literature, but this might help in the 'new medium' of the web-site. There are other things to be discussed, like safety observations, how the band practises, service ringing etc., but listed here are just the essential skills to be learned on the way to handling a bell. Following on from this, the approach of the tutor in a more 'educational model' version, sums up principles to bear in mind. But here's how I start them off:

SEE A BELL RING (i.e. full circle, in the bell chamber). A Demonstration of the two strokes. There is nothing like seeing the actual bell ring to demonstrate what is happening up above. Note: stay and slider mechanism; rope, garter hole in the wheel and ground pulley; clapper, and how the bell is silenced for practice. A model bell is useful LATER, to help in discussion, but not before seeing the actual bells ring. The demonstration will also introduce naturally the dangers of a bell when 'up', and the towers safety rules can then be explained.

BACKSTROKE * Practising the backstroke, at normal ringing speed, with some variations. After initial practice, feel the stay, and 'set' (with instructor). Practice.

HANDSTROKE * Letting go and catching the sally (instruction on letting go). Locating where to catch. Varying speed, feeling the stay. Setting (introduction). Practice.

* with each stroke, the instructor checks that the rope is the right length, shows the learner what will happen, and will follow each stroke with one hand until the learner can be relied upon to ring it alone. It is important to emphasise style - a neat movement, tending to straight lines, with a symmetrical stance. Hence practice. See also demonstration, later.

DUMMY TAIL END Practise the handstroke without dropping a short loop of rope called the 'dummy' tail end. This is just to get the left thumb used to holding the tail-end. It need not be used more than once; usually immediately prior to putting the two strokes together. An alternative is to use the tail end of the neighbouring bell-rope - as a dummy, but care is needed.

PUTTING THE STROKES TOGETHER First attempts at ringing both strokes, after demonstration of the action. It helps if the tutor stands to the left of the learner, the tutor's right hand can then assist the handstroke and the tutors left hand can assist the backstroke, as required. (or the other way round, vice versa, if preferred, see next).

LEFT OR RIGHT HAND? The present writer believes that all learners should be taught initially as if they will eventually hold the tail end in their left hand - the 'more common' way. Holding the rope in the other hand HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HANDEDNESS, and whether they are left handed or not should never be asked (except socially, later, if it arises). There are many left handed people ringing normally, and also right-handed people ringing with the tail end in the right hand, so clearly we should not confuse the newcomer by suggesting that it is a 'handed' skill.

HOWEVER: at some point after putting the two strokes together, it MAY BE apparent that changing over to the other hand could be easier for the learner. This could be because of any number of reasons which we need not make an issue of - it may be simply personal preference, but it should be emphasised that the normal way is USUALLY better, and only if we find reasons to consider the alternative do we consider changing. IF THIS IS DONE - a brief resume of the TWO STROKES separately with the other (left) hand uppermost must be done - and then to introduce the both-strokes stage from fresh, with everything the other way round. Remember, it is the lower hand on the sally and tail end which retains the tail end. This also implies that the best side for the instructor is now to the RIGHT of the learner, as each hand has the other's work to do, see above. This fact reinforces our belief that the 'handedness' in ringing is often more to do with that of the instructor than that of the learner!

THE KNOT(s) The 'up' knot should have been shown by now - if there is a preferred version in use in the tower then use it, otherwise the version which is simplest for the instructor to teach! However, we believe that the 'down' knot should also be taught - although many towers do not insist in it's use, some towers may still expect ringers to know it. Again if there is a preferred version in the tower, use it, otherwise teach the 'bowline' version - preferred on the grounds that it is a useful knot to learn for other purposes (and ALL Anglers, Boaters, Scouts, Guides, Cadets, Climbers, Sailors and military personnel should already know it!).

RAISING A BELL (and CHIMING) whether or not 'ringing' on both strokes has been perfected. This may be done at any time before this - some instructors believe it should be done right at the beginning. Catching the sally is not important (unless you intend teaching this at this time). Only once is necessary at this level - proper raising may be done after both strokes are perfected. Although the point of raising the bell at an early stage is to gain a feel for the weight of the bell, it also introduces the subject of 'chiming', or feeling the clapper - and hence introducing the need for understanding and practising these new skills.

PRACTISE SETTING at each stroke. Under instruction. Backstroke is just as important as handstroke because the learner may need to slow down at either stroke (e.g. when ringing too early, or late, or when learning control of speed in rounds). It may be worth mentioning at this point that it helps if the learner is being taught on a bell with an approximately equal 'set' on each stroke. A 'light' set at backstroke makes this more difficult. As the basic skills should be attainable as easily as possible, it seems appropriate not to introduce difficulties at this time. The learner at this stage should not be needing much intervention by the instructor, who should however be still standing close by in case of over-pulling or missing the sally.

FOLLOWING ANOTHER BELL This is likely to be a tied practice for the next stage. If it is only the instructor and one learner in the tower, this is where the instructor's confidence is tested! It is always advisable however to have another ringer present when teaching handling. (It is also advisable to normally have more than one learner at a time, although there are sometimes reasons why there should be only the two of you - for example to overcome handling problems with sensitive adults - usually just before a normal practice).

RINGING IN ROUNDS It is important, in our opinion, that the first attempt at ringing rounds should be rung open, and on a normal number of bells for the band. Emphasise the sound required - even spacing of all the bells. A little assistance from the instructor at the beginning is not a bad idea, if required, to ensure that the need for correct spacing is appreciated. It is also kinder to anyone listening! Further practice on a reduced number of bells and/or silenced is then often more productive to refine the steady handling skill.

LEADING It's only following at the opposite stroke, but with the addition of leaving a 'handstroke pause' (in most of the country at least) - i.e. the 'open handstroke'. This should be done at an early session of 'rounds' ringing (even the first), and normally by ringing the treble, but could be done via call changes - but only direct calls to affect the learners bell (e.g. "two lead"). An explanation beforehand is needed of course - about the 'one beat' pause, and any calls to be made.

SETTING EXERCISES - 20 times? maybe 50 times?! Make it competitive if there's a group of learners - particularly if they are young people. This is best as 'tied bell' practice of course, both to avoid annoying the neighbours and to emphasise the purely physical feel required. At many towers when the bells are tied, one can hear the stay touch the slider - and any bumps! At the same practice, more simple following, and learning raising and lowering can be done, as there will still be a need to improve control (how hard to pull) and style (e.g. coils, and control of fingers at handstroke!), etc...


The beginner will now (or soon) be a 'rounds ringer', restricted only by size and weight compatibility. It would be expected that by this time the learner is or should be welcomed to some Sunday ringing, and other events - much practical and other experience is gained by such attendance: extra ringing each week, ringing in the first session particularly (e.g. when only a few of the bells may be rung), maybe ringing different bells, raising a bell if this has been learned, chiming the 'service' bell, etc., and the resultant feeling of involvement is important. How long this takes is of course another matter entirely - and the reliability of having produced a rounds ringer in the West Country sense (striking perfection) is very variable - according to individual aptitude, but also depending on the instructor's programme of lessons and firmness of implementing objectives set. It is an interesting lesson to us that the ability to learn the art of ringing does not correspond to the same person's ability or progress in any other activity or skill! It is a unique form of exercise, which has not changed fundamentally for three hundred years, and the people who find it an irresistible challenge to master this basic stage of handling a bell differ from each other widely. These points should be discussed in the tower, and all beginners should be given a healthy time to enjoy the achievement of this stage of ringing rounds before progressing to further stages.

AN EDUCATIONAL MODEL: (notes for instructors)

It may be noted that I use a general model for the theory of skill acquisition:


In any learning of skills, the learner will have some stimuli to cause them to attempt the skill under discussion. It may be simple observation, without encouragement from others, or it may be described in detail - but it is nevertheless a demonstration. The instructor can optimise the efficiency of this period by providing just the right information for each individual. People vary - a professional adult (particularly technical ones) will require lots of explanation (they don't really need it - though they think they do!), but a younger or more practically minded person would probably just want visual or dynamic stimuli. (Make sure they are comfortable when 'sitting out' - they are watching). They then attempt the desired process - with probably varying degrees of success - but this is greatly assisted by the helpful participation of a tutor, or others. In our ringing application, it can be seen (and is well known) that the otherwise dangerous process of learning to handle a ringing bell is most efficiently learnt in suitable steps, and under the guidance of a confident and competent person, prepared to act as instructor. All the steps which require the instructor's active participation could be seen as rehearsal - for when they can do it themselves. After a while, and usually some set-backs, either progress is made, in which case they are performing; or the task (or the skill) is abandoned.

Of course, other words could be used (observation, practice, etc), but the words chosen I think emphasise the part the instructor can play as facilitator; so in the teaching of ringing we have:

Demonstration: there is no doubt that seeing the bells ring is a great stimulus to most, but the message here is that all the stages identifiable in learning to ring should have this element - thus before ringing the backstroke the instructor will lift the rope (tail-end being held by the learner) to the position expected; the learner thus knowing what to expect is thus more prepared than otherwise. Likewise before the first pulling off holding both strokes: the motions of the strokes - letting go and catching in slow motion - will be done without the bell being pulled off. i.e it is a demonstration of what will happen. This should be followed by the learner going through these motions - which will therefore be a rehearsal. At a more advanced level, it can be seen that witnessing some good ringing during a practice (i.e. some good striking) is a demonstration of what can be done, with acquired skill.

Rehearsal: The first attempts at the strokes should be guided ones - they are the first attempts by the learner - and here the learning process must be allowed to take place in as safe and encouraging environment as possible, and with as much time as is needed. This applies particularly when teaching the two strokes and putting them together. Later, 'rounds' may be rehearsed, for example on handbells, on a recording, or on a simulator, so that the learner will have some experience of what sort of sound is expected. At a more advanced level, a ringer may learn a new method - demonstrate that they have drawn the 'blue line' - and now may rehearse the method, maybe by reciting the order of work, or ringing a plain course at a practice, before being expected to ring in a touch to the standard expected of more competent ringers.

Performance: When the given skill is acquired, however notionally, the learner is now performing. After a while, the tutor will steer the learner towards the next skill, by similar demonstration, rehearsal etc.. Depending on the band, the instructor, and other ringers, the new ringer should be encouraged along the path to a good performance - i.e. acceptable striking - as it is listening skills that enable one to become a respected ringer. As can be seen from the above remarks however, some structure to the programme of ringing which acknowledges incentive, appropriate stages, and achievement in performance, is more likely to help the majority of learners achieve this. At a local level, it could be emphasised for example, that we practise (i.e. rehearsal) one evening a week (or more), but we perform when we ring for service (particularly weddings, where we are paid for it!) or when attempting longer lengths (quarter peals, peals, etc). Because of the public nature of our art, it is important to emphasise this from the earliest lessons, so that each new learner may instinctively know they are to fit into a team, with responsibilities to achieve at least an acceptable standard, as well as achieving personal goals.

Thus, by considering the inspiration, learning environment and aspirations of all our ringers, our behaviour, approach and possible success as instructors may be improved. With the subject of the above notes, hopefully a good proportion of our recruits may achieve this handling stage without undue difficulty.

Document last modified 9-MAR-2014