Covering, also known as ringing behind, means ringing in the same position, continually at the end of every row, whilst the other bells ring a method. Usually, the tenor covers to methods rung on an odd number of bells. When a tenor bell is covering, it helps to provide a steady, rhythmic pace to the ringing and an accurate tenor provides a point of reference for the working bells as they lead.
If you are unable to ring the tenor in your tower, then you can still
cover using another bell which is called into the last place in the row. It might
sound a bit funny but it will allow you to develop all the other skills
that covering helps to build.
Covering requires good bell control, an ability to ring steadily in one place, good listening skills, and ropesight. Most ringers use a combination of listening skills and ropesight to strike the tenor accurately when covering. These skills might develop together, or you might start off with one sense doing most of the work.
Practising ringing the tenor bell steadily is a good preparatory exercise, in rounds and call changes. Develop listening skills by counting your bell striking in the last place, hearing whether it is either late or early, then adjusting.
Try this exercise with your teacher. Stand behind the tenor whilst it is ringing rounds. The tenor ringer will adjust their speed to ring more slowly, or ring more quickly. Try to spot what happens to the ringing generally and how the other ringers adjust. Notice just how much the pace of the tenor can affect the ringing.
You can also stand
behind someone who is covering to a method. The tenor will
always be the last bell down, but see if you can notice any
pattern to the bells that are being followed. Ask to see a diagram of the method afterwards, and compare this to your observations.
If you are ringing the tenor to call changes, you can maintain a steady rhythm using your listening skills, but try to spot the bells changing below you. Do you notice any pattern? Start with trying to spot the last bell down. As you get comfortable with this, you may find you increase the number of bells you’re able to spot and the order they fall. Don’t worry if this is not immediately apparent, most ringers develop this skill gradually over some time as peripheral vision develops.
Remember that even very experienced ringers don’t always know in advance which bell they will be ringing over at the back, they will ring steadily and just have an awareness of which is the last bell down.
Once you’re comfortable ringing the tenor behind to Plain Hunt or simple methods, try calling some call changes, or saying go and stop to something simple like Plain Hunt. Listen out for it coming into rounds and make sure you get that’s all in the right place. Don’t worry if this doesn’t go according to plan the first time you try it. It’s amazing how much extra brain power even saying go and stop can take, but like all skills, it usually gets much easier once you’ve tried it a few times.
You can even conduct from the tenor. If you're covering to Plain Bob Doubles, look out for a particular bell which is about to make long fifths and call a bob. This is a great way to start developing ropesight – looking for one of the bells.
You will need to say go, call three bobs for a touch of 120 and call that’s all at the end. It’s a great introduction to using your voice whilst ringing.
Some of the ways people might try to help if you get out of place can vary from tower to tower. Here are some of the words of advice you might hear…
Some ringers have the misconception that ringing the tenor takes great physical strength, but it is in fact more dependent on technique. Plenty of slightly built ringers can be excellent tenor ringers because their bell handling is efficient. If you are invited to ring in rounds and call changes, ask whether it’s possible to ring the tenor so that you can gain experience at ringing a larger, slower bell.
If you are learning to ring at a tower with quite large bells, you may need to gain confidence ringing the back bells, as they turn more slowly than the lighter bells at the front. As pulling off in rounds requires more forward planning with a larger bell, it’s worth spending some time polishing this skill before embarking on change ringing. If the tenor at your tower is rung standing on a box this could also take some getting used to. If you’ve only rung lighter bells before, you may wish to build up to ringing progressively larger bells.
This excellent video from Julia Cater at the St Martin’s Guild has plenty of information about the science of ringing larger bells.
Start by covering to bells moving just below the tenor in a regular manner.
Once covering to Plain Hunt has been mastered, move on to covering methods. Different methods have different numbers of bells and patterns of bells coming to the back.
This is a game where all the ringers pull off in rounds, ring the following backstroke and stand on the next handstroke. This helps everyone practise pulling off in accurate rounds, and setting the bell.
A variation is to leave the tenor ringing steadily the whole time, so that everyone stands apart from the last bell. The other bells wait for two blows, then join in and ring rounds again. This affords an opportunity for the tenor ringer to ring consistently at a steady pace.
Try turning the simulator sound off so that the ringer can cover a method purely by watching the screen and spotting the last rope down. Striking review is a great way to aim for a best personal score if they have several goes at this.
Turning the screen display off is a great way for ringers to appreciate that it’s not necessary to always know in advance which bell they need to follow, and to develop rhythmic striking just by listening. Making the tenor sound louder, or even substituting it for a different kind of sound, can help a ringer who is struggling to identify which is their bell.
Use the ringing simulator to get the pull off in rounds really precise, perfecting this on bells of a variety of weights. This is a skill which is often overlooked on a practice night because ringers can be keen to let the rounds sort themselves out, then start ringing more complicated methods, but ringing nice rounds from the first pull off with the handstrokes and backstrokes in the right place is a fundamental skill for good striking. Explain that ringing the tenor, the ringer will need to start bringing the bell to the balance far earlier than on one of the lighter, front bells.