Developing ropesight skills at home

I have often seen learners being told to stand behind and watch someone else ringing something that they will be going to try to ring next. Often they are not told what to look for, or how to look for it, and the ringer they are watching doesn’t explain what they are looking for or seeing whilst ringing. The learner is led to expect that ropesight will just come sooner or later!

A ringer can start to develop ropesight well before they can ring a bell by themselves and, whilst ringing has ceased, they could be working at this on their own at home. Simulator software is needed, and the display should be set to show real ringers. Abel, Belltower and Virtual Belfry are all able to support the following exercises.

YouTube videos are available showing how to set up Abel for these exercises. by visiting the Abel Ringing Simulator playlist here.

Why not share these exercises with your new ringers?

Start with few bells and slow ringing

Choose the three-­bell methods file, select any of the methods available and set up your simulator package to:

  • Ring continually and not stop when rounds is reached
  • Ring at the slowest speed possible. Abel's slowest is a peal speed of six hours
  • If your software shows four ringers, put the ringer on bell four over to the right and try to ignore them. You might want to cover that ringer with paper or cloth to hide them altogether

Concentrate on seeing the last bell to ring at backstroke

Starting with the backstrokes is slightly easier as the screen is less cluttered. Set the ringing going and focus only on the backstrokes. At the exact moment when all the sallies are up in the air (or out of sight) and the ringers start to pull their backstrokes, watch the whole screen to see which ringer is last to get their rope moving. Ignore the handstroke and wait for the next backstroke – this will give your brain a moment's rest. It is ok to miss it sometimes ... just keep watching till you next see all the sallies are up in the air and start again.

Repeat, repeat and repeat again, and eventually, if not quickly, you will be able to spot which bell is last to ring, every alternate pull. If you are having difficulty, try looking at a different level, such as at the very top of the pull, or at the ringers' face height as their hands start to move downwards, or even as the sallies come down into view. Try them all.

It might take time but it will come. Remember, you’re not aiming to see the order – just which bell is last each backstroke.

Before you move on, try the other three-­bell methods to make sure you really can see it happening and are not just remembering the numbers.

Introduce more bells

Change to the four-­bell file and select a method. Now all four bells will have to be watched but go through the same steps as above. Change the method as soon as you find you are remembering the order. If you’re feeling confident, try the five-­bell file. Make sure you go to the settings and select the 'no cover bell in doubles’ option. If you find this five bells too hard, don't worry – leave it for now.

Move on to handstrokes

Once you can spot the last bell coming down at backstroke, you need to start trying to spot the handstrokes. Don't try to do both at once, yet! Go back to three­-bell methods and try to see the last to ring on just three bells. Be alert when all the sallies are in the ringers’ hands and when one is starting to move be ready to spot which sally is last to move up. It might help to say the bell number as you spot it each handstroke.

Once you can spot the last sally to start moving, move back to your four-­bell file and work on that.

Which is the first bell to ring?

Now is the time to learn how to see which bell is the first to ring, using the same exercises, in the same order on three then four bells. Remember to reduce the speed of ringing until it is slow enough for you to see.

Start again with backstroke as the screen is less cluttered. When all the sallies start to rise at handstroke, rest and don't focus – just glance lightly at the screen and note the moment when all hands and tail-ends are up in the air. Concentrate and look for the first ringer to start to bring their tail­-end down – watch for hands with no sally. Then move on to handstroke. Wait till you spot a row where all the bells are at backstroke – the sallies are out of sight – then watch intently. As the sallies start to come down, don’t bother looking for the first ­ you have just been doing that! You will now merely note that all backstrokes have been pulled and then watch carefully to spot the first sally to move again.

I think this is the hardest of all four exercises so make sure you give your brain opportunity to rest in between strokes. Call out the bell number of the first bell to move as you spot it each handstroke, then relax through the backstroke, till the next handstroke is about to start.

Don't worry about missing any, just pick up as soon as you can.

Test and extend yourself

Now mix the exercises up and set yourself random challenges, such as spotting the last back stroke, the first handstroke, then the last backstroke. Try and build up to spotting them each row. As you improve, keep speeding the ringing up, until you are ringing at three hour peal speed, which is about average for most ringing.

Seeing the order in which the bells ring in any row

The next set of exercises will help you spot the second and third bells to move. Using three bells, rung slowly if necessary:

  • Watch every row to see if you can pick out the last bell to be rung
  • Watch every row to see if you can pick out the first bell to be rung
  • Watch all three bells every backstroke and spot the order they ring in
  • Watch all three bells every handstroke and spot the order they ring in
  • Watch all three bells every pull and spot the order they ring in

At this point, if you have four bells ringing and are still covering up bell 4, you can now uncover it, focus on the three that are changing, and simply incorporate it as the last bell to ring every time.

This will require lots of concentration (no­-one said acquiring ropesight was easy) but when you feel confident at each of these exercises, repeat using four bells.

Who is following whom?

The simulator software allows you to watch call changes on different numbers of bells. See if you can spot:

  • Which bell is ringing first?
  • Which bell is last?
  • Which bell is the bell that is ringing last, following?
  • Which bell is ringing after bell 2?
  • Which bell is bell 4 following?

As each new change is called, you will have to look again. Endless practice is possible and the pause button can be very helpful.

Seeing the order of all the bells in any row

Select Plain Bob Minimus in the four-bell file and set a very slow speed to start with. Increase the speed as you get more confident.

  • Watch every backstroke and say the entire order of the four bells.
  • Watch the handstroke and say the entire order of the four bells.
  • Watch both strokes and say the entire order of the four bells.

Does it work?

Yes! At Tulloch last year, we helpers were asked to ring very slowly, a single row of Plain Bob Minimus at a time, and stand immediately, whilst the students worked out the order in which we rang; most could spot this.

I was asked to work with those who couldn't. A lady who was just learning to handle a bell, was in that group, and she was the first to spot everything I asked... the others had been taught by giving numbers or pointing, but using the simulator in the way I described, they all could see the order of bells in each row, eventually.


Chris De Cordova