Practising on your own

Tower bell ringers can learn methods and test themselves quite easily by reciting the work of a method or by drawing out the blue line on paper. If they can do this quickly and without error, and their ropesight is good, they can be confident that this will translate into a reliable performance in the tower.

However, for handbell ringers it is much harder to confirm whether you know a method well enough to ring it on handbells, because knowing a single line or a grid pattern doesn’t mean that you can ring two bells based upon this knowledge. To demonstrate that you know a method by drawing it on paper, you would have to be able to draw two lines simultaneously. This is impracticable.

Using thumbs or pens

These old-fashioned methods have the advantage that you can practise anywhere, but be mindful of the funny looks you might receive from others. Such practice also has a distinct up and down stroke which ringing using keyboard strokes does not. In many ways ringing using your thumbs or pens is harder than using a ringing simulator as you have no auditory cues (gaps or clashes) telling you if you've made a mistake. The converse is that if you can ring something successfully on thumbs or pens then you've probably got it!

» Ringing with pens - an explanation

Using a ringing simulator

Abel, Virtual Belfry or Beltower

An alternative is to practise methods with a simulator, using two keys on the keyboard to ring two bells while the simulator rings the rest.

Many ringers seem to manage to ring a simulator using the keyboard quite successfully, but it is generally acknowledged that this is much harder than practising with real ringers. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • There is no distinction between handstroke and backstroke when pressing keys. The keyup, keydown option helps with this, but it is no substitute for swinging one's arms up and down.
  • Using the keyboard you cannot “internalise” a rhythm based upon the movement of your arms and the timing of the swing.
  • The handbell equivalent of “ropesight” is difficult as the screen bells flip instantly between strokes. With real ringers you see the bell you are going to follow start to move and this helps you anticipate the swing of your own bell to ring after it. Abel now has an option for "moving handbells" which move the bells smoothly, more closely simulating the real world situation.

Handbell Controllers

Dummy handbells with electronic switches for clappers can overcome the first two points and includes a design to help you build your own. Handbell controllers aren't currently available to purchase, although if you're technically minded you might can make your own.

» More about handbell controllers

Handbell Manager

Handbell Manager is free software (under the GNU General Public Licence) that enables USB motion controllers to be used as dummy handbells with simulator software. There is no computer keyboard or mouse interaction required – the controllers are swung to ring two bells and buttons on the controllers are used to start the others ringing, initiate the method and call bobs and singles.

» Handbell Manager is available from GitHub

Setting up Abel to ring handbells

Handbell Manager Demo