Teaching foundations skills

In the same way as we organise special dedicated practices for method ringing, successful towers also organise entry level practices to develop foundation skills. This can be on a separate evening, or fortnightly on a weekend – but if you advertise it locally it will almost certainly be of interest to new ringers from the whole area. Word spreads quickly and such practices become very popular.

A few months ago, a gentleman from some distance away who had recently learnt to ring, contacted me to find out if I could offer some intensive lessons because he felt he was not progressing in his local tower. It was a story I have heard before. He gets 5 or 10 minutes’ practice a week and the remainder of the time sits down while the rest of the teamring their more advanced stuff.

After some correspondence and telephone conversations, I ascertained that he could handle a bell reasonably competently and could ring in rounds and call changes, although he sometimes lost track of the calls. In addition to some exercises to help improve his ringing technique, I diagnosed the main problem as lack of what we call “foundation skills” – that is, the set of techniques which are necessary to progress from rounds to Plain Hunt.

It so happened that, at about the same time, we held an ART Module 2F course at Marsworth. Two local ringers decided to come on the course and I agreed to mentor them. Having completed the day course, they were then left with the challenge of finding ways to practise and develop the skills they had been learning. Neither was a Tower Captain so it wasn’t just a case of getting on with practices. They decided to run a joint practice at one of the towers on a monthly basis and advertise it to the local ringers as an additional practice once a month on a Saturday morning specifically for foundation skills.

The practices were an instant success! One also has to bear in mind that we are situated on the border of three Counties – and three Dioceses which fall within three different ringing Associations – and are therefore some distance from the “centres” of each. None were known to have any regular practices aimed solely at developing foundation skills anyway. The practices have regularly drawn a dozen participants from local towers in all three counties who were struggling to make the transition from call changes to Plain Hunt. All have made significant progress as a result.

This led me back to my enquirer. I suggested he came over for a couple of days, as he was very willing to find a hotel for a couple of nights, when I could give some one to one handling tuition and he could come along to the foundation skills practice; there was also an opportunity to take part in Sunday Service ringing before he returned home. We also did some exercises ringing with our simulator, which he thought was a wonderful tool. I suggested that he should try to find other practices in his locality where he may get more practice and to find out what was available from his local ringing association.

This prompted me to look at practices on offer through various ringing associations. Most associations hold practices for novices where the emphasis is on rounds and call changes, and others for method ringing. The latter can be split between what we might call elementary change ringing, e.g. Bob Doubles, Bob Minor & Grandsire, and more advanced ringing, especially Surprise methods. I only found one Branch which had a regular foundations skills practice.

Why is it that this essential stage in ringing development is paid so little attention? Ok, many towers do things like making places and dodging practice as an extension of call changes, but that’s about it. If people can’t progress from call changes, they will get frustrated and that’s when they are liable to give up. Foundation skills are so important yet frequently ignored.

Richard Booth, Marsworth

Why are foundation skills practices so popular?

Clearly there is a high demand for an entry-level practice, just as people might travel for a monthly Surprise Minor practice, or a regular 10-bell practice. As specialist foundation skills practices are fairly uncommon, it is obvious that ringers feel it is extremely beneficial. Dedicated foundation level practices can more quickly help ringers make a transition from rounds to Plain Hunt, and this is a crucial stage where successful towers and branches can help new ringers to stay motivated.

Be careful though. Don't be tempted to push new ringers too far, too quickly. This is the time to get the foundation skills, which we take for granted, right so that your ringers can progress more quickly and further later on. Avoid the mistake of jumping from call changes straight into Plain Hunt, in the belief that this will make them feel they are progressing. Confidence can easily be lost and along with it, the ringer too.

Provide practices which engage early ringers for the majority of the session.

Continue with a separate tied bell session after the ringer joins the main practice session. Note that tied bell sessions alone do not provide the opportunity to develop all the necessary foundation skills.

Have a tied bell session before Sunday service ringing.

Have an early ringers’ session before the main practice. It may be easier to get helpers at this time.

Have an additional separate early ringers’ practice. It may be possible to gather learners together from more than one tower. This could perhaps be done at Branch or Guild level or at a Ringing Centre.

Arrange for practice sessions using a simulator, which means skills can be built with very few helpers. With two helpers and one tutor, skills can be built using 3 or 4 bells. With a group of 3 ringers, one hour can provide good practice for them all. Ringing rounds on larger numbers of bells by ear with the rest of the bells being rung by the simulator will ensure that the ringer still learns to hear the full compass of bells on 6 or 8.

Run early ringers courses weekly over 6 to 8 weeks. In this way it may be possible to meet the requirements of different types of learners. Retired ringers may prefer a daytime session. Young ringers may benefit from an early evening session when they are not so tired. Saturday mornings might suit families better.