Steps to Ropesight

Acquiring that elusive skill known as “ropesight” can be a frustrating time. I believe you can’t specifically teach or learn “ropesight”. What you can do is provide the best opportunities for the skill to develop and teachers can reassure learners that they will develop it at their own pace. The teacher needs to watch out for sticking points and try to find interesting, creative exercises that suit the occasion to avoid learners becoming dispirited.

The process should begin as early as Learning the Ropes Level 1. Yes, the primary focus is on actually learning to control a bell, but at the same time the learner should be encouraged to watch other people ringing and guided in how to do so. The need to look at the hands and faces of the other ringers is not as obvious as experienced ringers may think. I discovered relatively recently the reason one of my ringers has an ingrained habit of looking up. As a conscientious learner she spent many hours, while sitting out, trying to watch what was going on and acquired a habit of looking up and watching the sallies descend. Despite frequent reminders and knowing it’s unhelpful, she still feels pulled to default to this when “lost” and felt quite uneasy when visiting a tower with a low ceiling because the sallies disappeared from view.

Guided Exercises in Watching

These are best done from a standing position to discourage looking upwards.

  • Watch a skilled ringer by scanning between hands and face. Notice when in the stroke the bell sounds. Notice the point the hands are momentarily stationary; it’s after the hands rise with the tail end or sally, just before the ringer consciously draws the rope down (pulls). This is a good point of reference.
  • Watch rounds on four bells. Explain that the 2 and 3 will now be asked to change places a few times. As they change, watch the hands of each ringer and try to see the order in which they are ringing.
  • Watch the 4 cover over 2 and 3 making long places, short places and dodging (Learning the Ropes Level 2 exercises). Stand with the learner and have them state which bell the 4 is ringing over. This also prepares the learner for their own experience of these exercises so ensure the correct terminology is used.
  • As soon as the learner can manage backstrokes on their own, have a bell ring just in front of them and one behind (i.e. rounds on three bells). This is a ropesight development exercise, not a speed control one, so the other two bells must allow the learner to dictate the pace. Have the learner actively look and listen, developing an awareness of seeing and hearing the timing. Repeat with handstrokes and later with both strokes. Remember, these exercises complement the single bell work, not replace it and the learner at this stage is not responsible for keeping perfect timing! The purpose is to introduce ropesight, the rhythm of rounds, hearing your bell in amongst others, responses to “treble’s going” and “stand”, and to add in variety to the experience of learning bell control at points when adult learners often feel they’re struggling to make progress.

Kaleidoscope Ringing and Call Changes

As soon as a learner can ring rounds reasonably well, start to introduce a range of Kaleidoscope exercises and Call Changes (Learning the Ropes Level 2). Aim to develop the ability to follow different bells as well as listen to the sound that’s produced. Encourage visual scanning of all the other bells that are ringing. Point out that as soon as you’ve committed to a backstroke or handstroke you cannot alter that stroke – so immediately start scanning for the next bell to follow rather than watching the bell you’re already following for too long. Additionally the learner should gain an understanding of place in the row and learn to lead with a good rhythm.

Covering by Ropesight

Using a band of five stable ringers plus the learner, place the learner on the 4, 5 or the tenor, depending on their physical ability and weight/go of the bells. The reason for having six bells ringing is to provide a six-bell rhythm. Ask the learner to attempt exercises such as:

  • Covering over the two bells immediately before them. These two bells will have been asked to swap increasingly randomly (good exercise in planning and communication for these two ringers).
  • Covering over three bells who are plain hunting or whatever you wish.
  • Covering to Plain Hunt on 4 and 5 bells. If the learner can’t physically manage a back bell, then have them ring the treble and call the bells into a suitable change such as 234156. 234 can then plain hunt.
  • Cover to Plain Bob Minimus.
  • Cover to Cloister Doubles (Stedman Quick Sixes, where the double dodges in 4-5 are done by only 3 of the working bells, while the other two are repeatedly making thirds from the front).
  • Cover to Stedman Doubles (as above, but any pair of bells can be at the back).
  • Cover to Plain Bob/Grandsire Doubles.

Encourage both listening and looking to see who they’re following; learners will vary in which they find easier. Explain that “seeing” is a ropesight skill which complements listening. Point out that you cannot wholly accurately place the bell merely by looking, but it’s the looking that gives you the approximate position and the listening that allows you to fine tune it.

Why look? Why not just listen?

Around this stage, if not before, some will notice that many experienced ringers appear not to look at all, instead seeming to find inspiration from the pattern on the carpet. Use this to prompt a discussion and exercises on the use of peripheral vision and an awareness of the other bells. It can be very useful to do some whole band exercises on this, by asking the entire company to look at a point in space and rely only on peripheral vision to strike rounds. It is not unusual to have better rounds than expected!

It’s worth pointing out that when you’re inexperienced or unfamiliar with what you’re ringing, using direct gaze along with peripheral vision can be helpful for two reasons.

  • Other ringers will often give help via facial expressions and gestures.
  • Teachers and conductors can tell from a ringer’s direction of gaze whether that person is “lost” or is trying to do the right thing but in the wrong part of a row. For example, a conductor might say “Sam, you’re dodging 3-4”; the trouble is Sam knows this, however the bell is actually around 4-5. Sam has not been helped at all by the comment – the information necessary was that the dodge was with the 2, not with the 5. Personally, when a learner needs only little assistance in change ringing, I like to stand out in a position where I can see their face. I can then see whether or not an error is one of knowing the place they are in, but failing to find it, or whether they’ve dropped off their “line”.

Author: Heather Peachey

Teacher's Guide to Learning the Ropes

A book for any ringing teacher, covering the “how to” from the first bell handling lesson to teaching someone how to ring their first method.

The Teacher's Guide and its companion publication The Ringer's Guide to Learning the Ropes are both available from the ART shop.