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There are three main skills required if you wish to become a good ringer; bell control, listening and ropesight.
Of these, ropesight is the most difficult to teach!
There are two distinct levels of ropesight. The first is the ability to see where you are in the change and which bells you are working with. This is what you need to be a good ringer. The second is the ability to see not just where you are but where all the other bells are too and what they are doing. This is what you need to be a good conductor!
From the moment you start ringing call changes, you should be looking to see where in the change you are, i.e. what position you are in. With practice, you should be able to see at least some of the bells below you. It is worth looking to see them and to count the bells as they strike. This gets harder the more bells that are ringing so start on 6 and work up. On 6, count the 6 bells as they strike and try to see which bells they are in which order. You should then also be able to hear whether or not they are correctly struck, especially your own bell as you should know which position you are in.
As the number of bells increases, seeing where the other bells are becomes more difficult so concentrate on what position you are in and try to see at least the 2 or 3 bells immediately below you and the 2 or 3 immediately above you. With practice you should be able to see most of the other bells, even on 12, as conductors will usually call the bells into one of a few standard musical positions, such as Queens, Whittingtons or Tittums, and then back again.
Once you start method ringing, things get more difficult and change much more quickly. You will start with Plain Hunt, usually on 5 or 6 bells. To start off with you will be encouraged to count your places. This is very useful at the early stages before you have developed the ropesight, but you should aim to get to the point where you can see where you are by ropesight rather than relying on counting places (you would be amazed how many people have said that they knew which place they should be in by counting but in fact were well out of place!).
There are a few things you can do to try and help develop ropesight.
Firstly, remember to look around you and have a wide vision, don’t just focus on one or two people – experienced ringers will often try to catch your eye to help you when you are passing them or working with them; if you don’t look around enough you will miss those cues.
Secondly, make sure that you know about coursing and coursing orders (see separate notes on the Cathedral ringers’ website). If you know what order you are passing the bells in, that will help you to see where you are and who you’re working with. Coursing orders work particularly well in simpler methods such as Plain Bob, Little Bob, Kent Treble Bob, Grandsire etc. (but look out! they work differently in Grandsire)
Thirdly, try thinking about and looking for dodging positions. In Minor methods there are only three dodging positions: 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6. In right place methods (i.e. those where all leading and lying behind is at handstoke and then backstroke) if you are going up then in each position you will be over at handstroke and under at backstroke. If you are on the way down then you will be under at handstroke and over at backstroke. If there is no dodging or other work in any one position then you just carry on hunting.
With reasonable ropesight you should be able to see whether you are on the front, in the middle or at the back and which way you are going will tell you which position you are in at each stroke.
As you increase the number of bells you just add another dodging position; thus in Major you have 4 positions as you’ve had to add 7-8. Generally, seeing whether you are on the front or back, or one position away from the front or back, should not prove too difficult.
If you are ringing odd bell methods, i.e. Grandsire, Stedman and Erin, then the dodging positions are in 4-5, 6-7 etc. There are then 3 bells working on the front which you should be able to see.
If you can see where you are without having to count places, that will free up space to enable you to count the bells as they strike and, thereby, to hear your bell and strike it accurately.