Index of John Sturdy's Change-Ringing pages
My main pastime for many years was change-ringing; the ringing of bells in mathematical patterns rather than randomly or in tunes. Often heard as a disorganized jangle as ringers learn the basic stages, in its advanced forms it is a complex changing pattern of sound in a perfectly smooth rhythm.
As a human achievement, it is one of the most complex, requiring the memorizing of the patterns (called ``methods''), the watching of the other ropes (``ropesight'' -- you do not, on the whole, know in advance which bell yours will be after), and the manual timing of an instrument which sounds around two seconds after you pull the rope, to an accuracy, when done well, of around 20 milliseconds.
Each bell weighs typically between a tenth of a ton and a ton, although there are bells weighing only a hundredweight and there are some weighing several tons. The bell is mounted on a headstock, a beam which is attached to the wheel, a spoked wooden wheel several feet across. The rope is attached to the rim of the wheel, and can wind round it in either direction. Starting from the bell being at rest at one end of its travel, when it is mouth-upward and just beyond the balance, when you pull the rope, the bell goes over the balance, swings through the mouth-down position, and back up to mouth-up just over the balance in the other direction. As the bell comes to a rest, the clapper catches up with it, and the bell sounds. You can vary the timing by how hard you pull; a gentle pull means the bell will not quite reach the balance, and so will stop, and return for the next stroke, sooner; a harder pull sends it further over the balance, giving a slower stroke.
Being heavy, the bell has a natural rhythm, like a pendulum: different amounts of pull have only a small effect on the timing. Ringing is arranged into rows; in each row, all the bells sound once each. The timing changes described above allow a bell to move one place in the row between rows; it can swap with the one before it, or the one after it, or stay where it is. The sequences of these changes are called methods, and these are what the ringers memorize.
I've stopped ringing now; partly through moving to somewhere where there is less ringing, and partly because I got fed up with not being allowed to make progress (when I am somewhere there is more ringing).
There are two areas of things to learn, methods and striking; I (and, I suspect, a lot of ex-ringers) can learn methods fairly quickly (a forebrain function), but am slow to improve at striking (a hindbrain function). People running ringing tend not to let you ring more methods until they're satisfied with your striking in simpler methods, even if you can actually ring your most complex methods at least as well as you can your simplest ones, and this leads to getting bored with ringing the same simple things over and over again without being allowed to spice your progress up with occasional attempts at more interesting things. Eventually I got fed up with my poor sense of rhythm and physical control leading to me being treated as too stupid to learn methods, and first put ringing low down on my list of things to do, then stopped altogether, while acknowledging that it could theoretically have continued to be interesting...
I used to recommend ringing as a pastime, enthusiastically; but I'd now only recommend it if you're as good at learning timing skills (hindbrain) as you are at learning intellectual skills (forebrain) -- otherwise it's likely to be frustrating. Unfortunately, ringing doesn't seem to have a place for intelligent people with poor co-ordination, and this probably explains part of the poor retention of learners; people simply get frustrated or bored before their striking would have improved.
Learning to ring
Change-ringing is something that you can go on learning for a long time -- there is a lot to it! I'd regard myself as just having reached the beginnings of advanced ringing when I got fed up with not being allowed to make further progress, and gave up on it. I wrote a page about learning to ring, to explain the stages you go through if you're interested in learning.
One thing I noticed missing from among the ringing pages on the web is a list of ringing terms (whether suitable for interested newcomers or as finely-honed technical definitions), so I'm starting to write a glossary of ringing terms; I'd welcome corrections and additions mailed to me.
In odd moments, I've been writing some ringing-related software, none of which is really "release" quality, but some of which is ready for people to look at and comment on, and so I've made it available here.
Ringing simulator in emacs-lisp
My ringing software in emacs-lisp reads place notation and lets you display lines and ring methods interactively.
Ringing and the Church
Ringing is an activity straddling the religious and the secular; I made some notes about how ringing fits in with the church.
RSI and ringing
Naturally, ringing involves the hands and arms a lot. I have RSI, and this affects how much I can use my hands without a rest. Although at first I suspected ringing of contributing to the problem, I have found that in fact ringing seems to help with RSI.
Some more subjective notes
In most of this set of pages, I've tried to describe ringing objectively; I've got a separate page for my more individual thoughts on ringing, on which I've also put my own peals and quarters list.
Ringing Resources by Roger Bailey at Imperial College
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