Spring Ring change ringing class notes, May 18 2019

What is change ringing?

We usually use an even number of bells in a major scale with the key note of the scale as the lowest note. Convention says it would be 6, 8, 10 or 12 bells. We ring each bell once in a sequence, so that each sequence – or change – has each bell striking once. The simplest change (sequence) is each bell ringing from the highest to the lowest note. Instead of notes, we list bells as numbers (because it doesn’t matter which key they are in) – starting with 1 for the highest and descending down from there. So the simplest change on 8 bells would be:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

This simplest change is known as “rounds.”

If we rang “rounds” the whole time, life would get pretty boring! So we need a way – or a set of rules – to mix up the order of the bells to make it more interesting. And to find out more about those rules, we need to go back to England in the 1600s.

A word on history . . .

The starting point for those rules is that all of change ringing is based on bells hung in a church tower – there are a handful of secular towers, such as Manchester Town Hall UK, or the Mitchell Tower, University of Chicago, but 99% of bell towers are in churches. In the 1600s, the way that church bells were hung in the tower – the frame, the wheel, the fittings, etc. – developed significantly. Prior to that, bells had been tolled – pull the rope, the bell swings and strikes in its own rhythm, without the ringer having any precise control. These new fittings allowed bells to be rung full circle – and that allowed the bells to be struck more precisely, so that they could ring one after another, in rounds, all spaced evenly. To show you what I mean, here is a great YouTube video of the bells at Buckfast Abbey, which show bells ringing as they are hung in the UK.

This starts with the ringers in the ringing chamber, ringing rounds – and then moving up into the belfry, to show the bells actually turning. You’ll notice that they are fixed to a pivot, with a wheel attached to the pivot, and a rope around the wheel. You pull the rope, it turns the wheel, it swings the bell – until it has enough momentum to swing upwards and hover on the balance point. The way we ring church bells is that we pull the rope enough to nudge the bell off the balance point, and it swings all the way round to the balance point on the other side. We nudge it again and it swings back. When you look at the folks in the ringing chamber, the rope shoots up through the ceiling because it wraps itself around the wheel – and then it comes back down as the wheel turns round again and it unwinds. However, we can’t ring music, as we do with handbell choirs, because we can’t make the bell wait a long length of time, or repeat rapidly. Each bell weighs anything from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, and that bell has a life of its own! So the best we can do is to nudge the bell to move one place sooner in the change (sequence), or hold it back to strike one place later, or ring steadily stay in the same place. So this is how “rules” came about – bell fittings improved so that we have more control, BUT – we can only move one place sooner in the change, one place later in the change, or stay in the same place.

OK – so we have the bell fitting improvements that allowed change ringing to develop – let’s look at the people who actually developed change ringing.

The first textbook on change ringing was called “Tintinnalogia” and published in 1668, written for a London-based ringing society called the College Youths, and it had some very simple ways to create groups of changes – known as methods. There was a real excitement at that time with many new sets of bells being installed in towers, and it wasn’t long before the next book – called “Campanologia” – was published in 1677, authored by Fabian Stedman, who created a lot more methods, many of them a lot more complicated! There is famous method, known as Stedman, which Fabian Stedman composed, and which is still one of the most popular methods rung to this day.

The rules of change ringing

Beyond the basic rules of each bell only moving one place forward and back, or staying in the same place in the change, the additional rules are that each method has to start and finish in rounds (the simplest change, highest to lowest bell), no change was allowed to be repeated, and no stopping part way through. These are the rules we still follow today.
So how do we put methods (groups of changes) together?

Let’s start with 6 bells.

1 2 3 4 5 6

The easiest way to have everyone move is to swap with their neighbor:

2 1 4 3 6 5

If everyone swapped with their neighbor again, we would be back to 1 2 3 4 5 6. What we can we do to avoid that?

The next easiest thing is to have the bell in the first place and the last place in the change stay in the same place, and the pairs of bells in the middle swap with their neighbor. So we get:

1 2 3 4 5 6
2 1 4 3 6 5
2 4 1 6 3 5

Now let’s repeat that sequence – swap with your neighbor, then swap the inside pairs – and see what happens:

1 2 3 4 5 6
2 1 4 3 6 5 – everyone cross
2 4 1 6 3 5 – inside pairs cross
4 2 6 1 5 3 – everyone cross
4 6 2 5 1 3 – inside pairs cross
6 4 5 2 3 1 – everyone cross
6 5 4 3 2 1 – inside pairs cross

(As handbell change ringers, we usually highlight a pair of bells, since we ring two at a time. In this case, I highlighted bells 1 and 2 in red.)

Why don’t you continue the pattern and see what happens? SPOILER ALERT – answer below, so stop reading now if you want to do the exercise!

OK – so it looks like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6
2 1 4 3 6 5 – everyone cross
2 4 1 6 3 5 – inside pairs cross
4 2 6 1 5 3 – everyone cross
4 6 2 5 1 3 – inside pairs cross
6 4 5 2 3 1 – everyone cross
6 5 4 3 2 1 – inside pairs cross
5 6 3 4 1 2
5 3 6 1 4 2
3 5 1 6 2 4
3 1 5 2 6 4
1 3 2 5 4 6
1 2 3 4 5 6

You can see that in 12 changes, we have started and finished in rounds, each bell has only moved one place forward, one place backward, or stayed in the same place, and we have not repeated anything.

If you were at the class, this is the pattern that we practiced with one person ringing one bell.

12 changes is a big step forward, but this also would get very boring if that is all we rang. How do we extend from here? Here are a few examples:

1 3 2 5 4 6

This is the next to last change before getting back into rounds. Instead of first and last
bell staying in place and the inside bells swapping – how about we hold the first and second bell, and the bells in 3rds/4ths place and 5ths /6ths swap with each other?

1 3 2 5 4 6
1 3 5 2 6 4

and then after that we go back to everyone cross/inside pairs cross, until 1 gets back to
the first place again, then we do another “hold first and second place bells” etc etc . Trust me that this will eventually come back to rounds! Along the way, it will produce 60 changes instead of 12.

Or how about if we start off with 3 and 4 staying in the same place? Then everyone crossing?

1 2 3 4 5 6
2 1 3 4 6 5 – stay in 3rds/4ths place
1 2 4 3 5 6 – everyone cross
2 1 4 3 6 5 – stay in 3rds/4ths place
2 4 1 6 3 5 – inside pairs cross
4 2 6 1 5 3 – everyone cross
4 2 1 6 3 5 – stay in 1st /2nds place

This one is a lot more complicated, but is an example to show how we can build up complexity. There are thousands of variations we can make like this, and each defined set of variations is called a method. We also give these methods names, a bit like pieces of music have names. The one above with 12 changes is called “Plain Hunt” and the one with 60 changes is called “Plain Bob.” This last one is called “Kent Treble Bob” and has 120 changes.

How many changes are there?

To find the total number of changes on a given number of bells the calculation is:

On 6   1x2x3x4x5x6 = 720 (takes about 20 minutes of nonstop ringing)

On 7   1x2x3x4x5x6x7 = 5,040 (takes about 3 hours of nonstop ringing)

On 8   1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8 = 40,320 (only been done a couple of times, but has taken about 21 hours on very small, very fast-turning bells).

On 12   1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8x9x10x11x12 = 479,001,600 (would take about 39 years – and no, never been done)

There is an enormous amount of variety and challenge in devising and ringing methods, and we never get bored.

What does Plain Bob sound like?

We rang Plain Bob on eight bells at Spring Ring, and there is also a video on our website of us ringing Plain Bob on eight and on ten bells. Go to the video section and take a listen! Here is the link on YouTube for eight bells.

Here are a few things you will notice:

  • We each ring two bells, and we do not physically move places
  • We ring both an up and a down stroke – this both mimics church bells, but also allows us to ring the changes a lot faster than if we just rung one stroke downwards
  • There is no variation in dynamics – church bells cannot ring loudly or softly, so neither do we
  • There is a slight pause of one bell length after every two changes – this helps us get our bearings and count up to eight and back

Ringing call changes – an interim step

We will talk later about how we ring Plain Hunt with two bells, but before that, let’s do a second exercise – this time introducing you to ringing two bells at once.

Rather than jumping straight into ringing a different change on every stroke, call changes allows us to ring a change that is different from rounds and repeat that change. Remember, the rule about repeating a change only applies to ringing a method, so call changes is more like a training exercise.

On tower bells, the conductor calls out the numbers of two bells that should swap with each other and stay swapped until he/she calls them back again. So that might go

13245678 . . . lots of times
13254678 . . . lots of times
13254768 . . . lots of times . . .

There are certain changes which are very musical, and these changes have names. A few of them are:

13572468 (odd bells first, then even bells) – this is called Queens 13579E24680T
( 0 E T stand for 10, 11, 12)

12753468 – Whittingtons (two highest, then odds from the bottom and evens from top) 12E97534680T

15263748 – Tittums 172839405E6T

12563478 – Pairs 1278349056ET

These will extend to 10 or 12 bells, and drop to 6 as well.

On handbells, because we are not hauling hundreds of pounds of bellmetal around, we can break the “only move one place at a time” rule! So what we do is just announce “Queens next time” and we ring Queens on the next up stroke. We only had time to do Queens on the Spring Ring, but why not try Whittingtons, Pairs or Tittums? Try to get an even rhythm going throughout, with a SLIGHT PAUSE just before the upstroke of the lightest bell. You need this pause to get your bearings – otherwise you will never be able to count the places in your head. You can ring with as few or as many bells as you like.

1234567812345678(pause one bell stroke long)1234567812345678(pause)

A third way to ring changes – cross and stretch

Another way to ring that we didn’t have chance to try at Spring Ring is known as cross and stretch, which a number of bell choirs in the US have tried. Remember how with Plain Hunt, everyone crosses with their neighbor, then the first and last bells stay in the same place and the inside pairs cross?

  • Start with bells on the table, just as you do with bell choir
  • Each person rings two bells once in a descending scale (rounds) (On 8 bells in the key of C, ringer 1 rings C/B, ringer 2 rings A/G, ringer 3 rings E/F, ringer 4 rings D/C)
  • Cross your hands as you place the bells back on the table
  • Now pick them up (hands uncrossed, but bells are crossed over) and ring them
  • This time, when placing the bells on the table, ringer 1 and 4 keep the outside bell in the same place, and everyone crosses bells with their neighbor
  • This time, cross with yourself
  • This time, cross with your neighbor
  • Repeat until you get back to the beginning

I expected to find plenty of videos of cross and stretch and I didn’t! The best one was actually on chimes, where you can clearly see the cross and stretch pattern, and they do a very nice job.

HOWEVER! Every single US video of cross and stretch starts with “reverse rounds’ and not rounds. As a change ringer, those videos go against the grain completely. You have to start and finish in rounds! Do try cross and stretch, it is a great exercise in precision and gets you into the sound of changes without having to learn to hold two bells and a road map in your head. Why not try this using the slight pause before each cross with yourself change, rather than with a conductor – it will impress! But please, please please, for my sake – start in rounds.

Ringing with two bells each ringer: how do we get our heads around all those numbers?

We don’t!

Instead, we remember a road map. Remember when we walked through plain hunt at the Spring Ring? And the first two bells wore a colored hat? And we saw how they both worked their way out together towards the end of the change, with one bell apart? We remember the position of each bell in relation to each other, and count. If you take plain hunt from the notes above, and join up all the 1 bell and another line to join all the 2 bell, you will see how they track. Or remember the colored hats. We think:

1st place and 2nd place (bells swapped over)
1st and 3rd
2nd and 4th
3rd and 5th
4th and 6th
5th and 6th etc.

These relate to the places that the bell strikes in, not the number of the bell. If you go back to our video of Plain Bob Major, watch Randy ringing bells 1 and 2, and listen how they ring for the first 16 changes just one bell apart. Yes, they go off in different directions after that, but that is a more advanced lesson!

If you would like to try change ringing, do contact us and we would welcome you along to a practice night (we ring on Monday evenings in Encinitas) and we will introduce you to the basics of Plain Hunt. Just about everyone who visits can ring Plain Hunt with a bit of help, by the end of our practice. Thanks for visiting us at Spring Ring, and we hope you enjoyed finding out more about change ringing.

Spring Ring change ringing class notes, May 18 2019