Exploring plain methods

The first method that virtually everyone rings on handbells is Plain Bob Minor, but once you are confident ringing short touches the next step is less obvious. It’s very easy at this stage to progress to ringing well-known, named methods, however this can encourage ringing by just using two blue lines, which should be avoided at this stage. Most handbell ringers use a combination of places, grid, lines, and structure (based on where the treble is or what the first bell of their pair is doing) and these different approached need to be learnt and practised.

If you're new to method ringing, this can be an advantage at this stage – you just do as you're told and you have no preconceived notions about what's hard and what isn't. If you're a tower bell method ringer, you will already have ideas about which methods are difficult and often assume that those you've not heard of, must be hard. In fact, what's hard on tower bells can be easy on handbells (and vice versa). Ringing by rules rather than a blue line associated with a method name can magically work and you'll be surprised to find out what "hard" method you've rung. A sure way of building your confidence.

The three basic pieces of place notation

So you can confidently ring Plain Bob Minor. You will be ringing Plain Hunt, place notation (x16) in all three positions (coursing, opposites and the 2-3 position). You will also have learnt what happens when seconds place is made at the lead end (x12) and what to do at a bob (x14). That’s three distinct blocks of place notation that you’ve learnt.

Let's continue to ring your two bells as a pair with the transitions between the three positions occurring in different ways, different places in the lead, and more often. We will introduce this complexity in small, easily achievable steps.

We do this by putting together these three blocks – x16, x12 and x14 – in different ways to give four more methods. Importantly you shouldn’t think of these as new methods, but as different arrangements of these three blocks

Plain Bob Minor requires the blocks to be rung in this order – x16 x16 x16 x16 x16 x12 – which we can translate into a rule, plain hunt (x16) until the treble leads when a seconds place (x12) is made, which causes all the bells above to dodge.

An easy next step is this set of blocks – x16 x14 x16 x16 – which is a lead of Crayford Little Bob, which naturally leads on to the second place version – x16 x14 x16 x12 – Little Bob. There’s nothing wrong with someone calling the half-lead or the place notation (x14) whilst you're getting used to the new block order and/or explaining that the place notation leads to one bell (the treble) making fourths and coming back down to the lead.

Another way of arranging the blocks is to place the fourths (x14) at either side of the seconds place lead end – x14 x16 x16 x16 x14 x12 – explained as Plain Bob Minor with a fourth place made when the treble moves between 2-3, causing an extra dodge in 5-6. This is Single Oxford and if you substitute the x12 block at the lead end with a x16 block you get Single Court.

Adding other blocks

So far, you've expanded your repertoire considerably by mixing and matching the blocks you learnt for Plain Bob Minor.

The next step is to look at another block. Take fifths for example. Think what (x56) at the half lead does to the bells. When fifths place is made the bells in 1-2 and 3-4 swap places (dodge) resulting in a parallel up or down manoeuvre and the scissors manoeuvre as in Plain Bob lead ends but involving the first four bells rather than the back four bells. This method is Reverse Bob Minor and is upside down Plain Bob. If you struggle to spot when to do the manoeuvres, then ask someone to call the half lead for you. It won’t be long before you'll be able to spot the half lead on your own, a skill that is so important in handbells. With a seconds place lead end (x12) and a 5ths place half lead (x56) you get Double Bob – x16 x16 x56 x16 x16 x12.

That only leaves thirds (x36) to master. Those in thirds or sixth place stay put, whilst the two bells on the front swap places, or dodge if you prefer. The bells in 4/5 swap places, which is what they would have done at a x16 (plain hunt). If the x36 is added at the half lead then you get the three-lead method on the left, in which 1, 2 and 3 all plain hunt – write this out and you'll see a method you've probably not rung in the tower! While putting in a seconds place lead end (x12) gives London New Bob. Finally – x16 x36 x36 x 36 x16 – with a seconds place lead end (x12) is St Clements. The ultimate method to ring having mastered all the places is Double Oxford in which a place is made every whole pull.

All this mucking around with blocks is the perfect way to develop good handbell skills without the need to ring two blue lines. Ten plain methods have been mastered without Kent Treble Bob Minor even being mentioned.

Place notation

Once you've mastered Plain Hunt you are able to ring the block (x16), but what does this piece of place notation mean?

The x (cross) means that all bells on their up stroke swap positions in pairs 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6 so if they have come down in 2 they go up in 1 and if they have come down in 3 they go up in 4.

The 16 indicates that places are made in 1 and 6. These places are made on the down stroke so the bells that go up in positions 1 and 6 place come down in the same position, whilst the other bells have to move and swap in positions 2-3 and 4-5.

» More about place notation