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Belfry Behavior

by Ross J Finbow

Political Correctness

I think there is far too much “political correctness” in ringing, and I further think it is a counter productive technique. Encouragement is one thing, and very important, but telling someone they did something well when they didn’t is not only dishonest but leads them to believe they are, in fact, doing it well when they are not. What better way to cement bad habits and bad ringing skills?

The term “better” can be used for encouragement but is not nearly the same as doing something “well” (or “good” as is often said, since much of populace seems dedicated to the abolition of the adverb).

It is probably true that in the US most people who learn to ring do so later in life than in the UK, simply because there are so few towers where one can learn that it is not normally possible to learn until and unless you happen to take up residence within a reasonable commute of one of them. By the time most people get to start to ring, they have often attained some level of academic and/or professional success, by which time being taught something as if they were a kid tends to grate. Being given instructions in a terse and blunt manner grates even more.

But ringing is an endeavor in which very rapid, accurate and concise instructions need to be conveyed and there is often no other way to achieve that.

I have found that it helps to settle your mind on the notion that many existing ringers who have spent many long hours developing (note I didn’t say “perfecting”, because that may not be the case) their own skills are offering extensive amounts of their own time and effort to help you improve your skills. Whatever instruction they give you should be at least respected and given due consideration when you are able – which may not be at the time that it is given, when you may be fighting for all you are worth to control your bell.

Note: Politics & egos seem to have a way of inflicting themselves everywhere, and there will likely be cases when someone who is fond of the sound of his or her own voice (although I think “his” tends to be more prevalent) will take every opportunity to tell someone else what to do under the guise of offering helpful advice. However, you can normally get to know them fairly quickly, and learning to ignore them is good practice for improving your concentration.

Also realize that not all instructors are at the same level or have the same experience or ability. A good and well experienced instructor can likely offer correction in a quieter and gentler tone than one who is doing all that he or she can to keep their own bell right and spare some concentration for helping you.

So if you get shouted at, in almost all cases it’s nothing personal, it’s just the way it comes out at the time.

And of course, in some towers one may have to shout to be heard above the bells, while in others one may have to shout to be heard over the voices of those outside the circle.

Belfrymanship (or if you prefer, Belfrypersonship)

Some of the younger or less enlightened members of the ringing community may not be aware of an amusing series of articles published in the Ringing World several years back, penned by the late Rodney Meadows.

Amusing as they are, there are some aspects of in-tower behavior that merit adoption, sometimes as personal courtesy to others and sometimes just to keep things moving along amiably and productively.

As may be obvious to some, I should mention that some aspects of this issue may be down to personal preference, so making an effort to get a range of opinions from other experienced ringers may be beneficial.

I believe that most ringers who genuinely want to participate in good ringing do not want distractions while they are ringing or preparing to ring and don’t want to wait around before starting to ring after they have caught hold of their rope.

Reasons for this can include the fact that for some ringers it can oftentimes be somewhere between mildly annoying to downright irritating, and more pertinently that ringers who may not have rung the proposed method or methods recently may want to collect their own thoughts for those few seconds available, and such distractions often prevent that.

Such distractions can come in several forms, such as:

A bit of light hearted banter is usually tolerable as long as it is kept to the point and not pursued beyond, at most, a short initial comment followed by a short succinct response.

One of the things that I think is commonly overlooked is the fact that maintaining good control of a bell takes typically something like 50% to 75% of your concentration and more if it’s a difficult bell. This may reduce as you become more experienced, but for the first several years of your ringing career it’s likely a reasonable (but admittedly unsubstantiated) estimate.

Consequently, when you are ringing you have only a fraction of the concentration available for remembering and ringing the method than when you can think about nothing but the method.

Not only are you having to “multi-task”, but when you catch the sally at hand stroke and pull off at both strokes you need to concentrate almost completely on bell control and so have to re-prioritize your mental tasks roughly every couple of seconds.

So it’s no wonder you need to know the method “inside out and back to front” before you can do all of that and stay right.

Things to note about preparation for ringing:

You may want to try it on an occasion such as an area meeting if you don’t normally get a chance at your home tower, and this is not an unreasonable desire, but you still don’t know it as well as you should, so keep working at it until you do.

Having a “stander behind” is often prudent when attempting a method you haven’t had much opportunity to ring before, but you should be confident in your own mind that you know it thoroughly before attempting to ring it because if you don’t you are not only wasting your own time but that of the 7 (for Major) others who are taking the time and trouble to give you an opportunity to attempt it.

And just so as you know it, lack of adequate preparation is something that usually gets noticed and remembered.

Comments on, criticisms of, etc. all the above readily accepted, if you can work out how to do that.

Posted Oct 11, 2012


Geoffrey DaviesOct 12 2012, 4:10 pm

Some really good points and advice here, Ross. Thanks!

Geoff Davies

P. S. How about giving us Rodney Meadows' Belfry Rules? I remember them fondly. G.

Don MorrisonOct 12 2012, 6:51 pm

Assuming that by "Rodney Meadows' Belfry Rules," Geoff means his series of articles in the early 1950s on "Belfrymanship," they're on the College Youths' web site:

(sorry, for some reason the web site doesn't allow formatted text in these responses, so I can't make that a clickable link)

The Belfrymanship stuff starts about a third of the way down the page.

Candace HigginbothamOct 13 2012, 10:47 pm

This is useful information from a highly respected ringer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Ross.

Michael F SchulteOct 15 2012, 3:03 am

Hi Ross,

You wrote above:

"If you need to look at a blue line, ask for advice or ask for a particular bell, You should NOT be attempting the method yet."

This is very much dependent upon circumstances. Experienced ringers gthering for a weekly quarter peal might be expected to adhere to this standard. Ringers tentatively venturing into new territory for the first time might not.

Learning on paper is all well and good, but ringing in the tower is another matter. It's probably worth making this disticntion lest an eager aspiring surprise ringer be put off by fear of criticism for not being well enough prepared.

Interesting read, though. Thanks!

Jeremy BatesOct 17 2012, 2:45 am

I agree with Mike. It does depend on circumstances.

What if you learn by doing?

A lot of people learn that way--experientially.

Laura DickersonOct 26 2012, 2:53 pm

My experience is that usually someone who complains about political correctness is about to say something sexist or racist. In this example, you just seem to mean trying not to hurt someone's feelings at the expense of improvement. Aside from the volume needed to get above the sound of the bells, I think shouting is counterproductive. You've rightly pointed out the large quantities of brain power needed. If you take some of that brain space away to cope with an automatic reaction to what (emotionally, if not rationally) feels like someone's anger, you've lost some of the needed concentration.

I really like your 3 bullet points near the end, but see what Mike & Jeremy are saying about learning styles. I have no experience with a simulator, but I presume that one of its positive features would be the ability to work on methods without inconveniencing the rest of a band.

Geoffrey DaviesOct 27 2012, 5:19 pm


Thanks for the link to Rodney's prose for ringers. I've been sitting here in immense pleasure reading about Belfymanship - absolutely superb. It was a pleasure to know Rodney, an immaculate ringer and person, and all the Birmingham ringers mentioned in the poem delivered at the Henry Johnson Dinner. George was George E. Fearn and 'Our Kid' was his brother, Henry. EVERY RINGER SHOULD DEFINITELY READ THIS!


Jeremy BatesOct 27 2012, 7:28 pm

Strongly agree with Laura.

The shouting is rarely personal, but it is always counterproductive.

We can't turn the limbic system off. (Nor would we want to.)

The part of the brain that asks "what place should I be in?" cannot compete with the part of the brain that asks "fight or flight?"

Michael F SchulteOct 27 2012, 10:23 pm

In my experience, the loudest shouters have not been the least experienced conductors, but rather some of the most experienced.

Ross J FinbowOct 30 2012, 3:55 pm

The last few responses seem to have focused on the subject of shouting in the tower. I didn't mean, nor do I think I did, make any attempt to justify that practice. I merely mentioned it as one factor that I have heard people mention in the context that they "don't like him (or her) because he shouts" and to offer a brief and very cursory explanation as to why this might occur in some instances.

What I assume to be obvious is that the main point of the article is to stress the importance of doing whatever you can to be as fully prepared as possible before attempting to ring methods that are new or relatively new to you.

This is also probably the single most effective thing that can be done to prevent or at least reduce the amount of shouting that occurs, in the event that you are unfortunate enough to ring in such a band.

Russ HankeyOct 30 2012, 7:14 pm

I think I learned early on that "shouting" in the tower to provide direction or information isn't meant to be negative or "yelling at someone", but that's not always readily apparent to a less experienced ringer, one who might decide to not pursue ringing any further based on the experience. In these situations, either the "yeller" or someone else would likely have a quieter chat with that ringer afterwards, to make sure it wasn't taken the wrong way.

I am wondering though, what is the "proper" way to learn a method? Some learn by pure blue line, others ring by place notation, sometimes place bells are learned, and some methods even lend themselves to more of a "rule-based" approach. Just like in school, everyone learns differently, and ringers are going to find what works best for them for each method. I'm certainly guilty of learning London Minor one place bell at a time, and contrary to the premise that I should have learned all place bells before even attempting the method, I ring with a forgiving band who gave me a chance to ring it through a special touch that kept me as only the 2nds and 4ths place bells. I'm with Mike, it's great to study it in the book, but at some point, actually ringing it in the tower and making mistakes is going to lead to much better learning. Having a band willing to ring with someone who is shaky in the method is a huge help.

I also don't know that I'll ever be far enough along to not need to take a look at the blue line for a method before we ring it. Ringing is a hobby, and I can't reasonably walk around with every method in my head without getting a quick refresher before we ring it. I've found lately that while learning London Minor, I benefit from taking a quick look at Cambridge Minor to make sure I have it correct before we start ringing. That being said, no, I wouldn't try learning an entire method while other ringers are standing and waiting to ring.

Ross J FinbowOct 30 2012, 9:59 pm

A couple of points have recently occurred to me that I'll address here.

The first relates to Russ's comments above.

The third paragraph under the heading "Belfrymanship" in the initial article says: "As may be obvious to some, I should mention that some aspects of this issue may be down to personal preference, so making an effort to get a range of opinions from other experienced ringers may be beneficial."

I understand that different people may have different preferences how to learn things and I take no issue with that as long as they learn as fully and as thoroughly as possible what they plan to ring before they attempt it.

I used the term "proper" in quotation marks, apparently unsuccessfully, in an attempt to indicate that my proposals were my views on what constitutes adequately thorough learning of a method for which you have a chance to prepare.

If you are asked to ring something that you haven't rung for some time at a practice, then getting a refresher "peek" I don't see as being at all unreasonable.

But if you are learning something new and are asking others to help you to ring it, I consider it something along the lines of rude and discourteous not to make every effort to learn it as thoroughly as possible beforehand.

My second related point is that those who have been either students or helpers at any recent Pittsburgh summer courses will have first had knowledge of the level of detail to which Don Morrison expects "pre-rope time" study to be conducted. It is not immediately obvious to me why attempts to ring any method(s) that are new to any ringer at a local practice should deserve any less preparation.

Russ HankeyNov 02 2012, 12:28 pm

Thanks Ross -- I did notice and appreciate your note in the article that much of this comes down to personal preference, and maybe even further, the preferences and tendencies of the local tower and band. I also did notice that it was a question of whether or not the ringer has done as much as they can to learn the method as fully and thoroughly as possible, that does leave some room for variation from ringer to ringer.

I am suggesting though that depending on how a ringer has learned the method, and done their homework, asking for a certain bell, or the starting method in a splice, might be just the clue they need to get started well. (There are other reasons for asking for a certain bell, including weight, ease of handling, etc.) This falls in the category of everyone learns differently, so rather than taking it as an annoyance or an offense, see it as a way that some ringers are trying to get as many clues as they can before they need to start worrying about catching that rope moving up and down continuously. I've even found that some of the pre-ringing chat, whether it's talking about the coursing order, or talking about where the ringer was lost in the method before, can sometimes help glean helpful hints from the rest of the band.

Michael F SchulteNov 02 2012, 5:34 pm

Ross wrote: "It is not immediately obvious to me why attempts to ring any method(s) that are new to any ringer at a local practice should deserve any less preparation."

There is a big difference here between preparing for a course over several months beforehand and preparing for a new method at practice night.

I don't disagree with you that folks should put in a reasonable effort before trying something new. I think I disagree with you quite strongly about where that standard of reasonableness lies.

Holding folks to the same level of preparation as that for the course would mean that you suggest a new method to someone at practice and then hope to try it three months later. That's just not reasonable for most of us, I suspect. It's also not necessarily more effective, and it's likely to lead to a fair amount of giving up on the part of new ringers.

John DiNovoJan 27 2013, 10:41 pm

Thanks, Ross. I'm a new ringer who found your article informative. I thought I share some of my personal observations about learning this craft before I forget what it is like to be new.

1. New ringers need to understand and be respectful of the enormous amount of time that a band, especially a small band, devotes to bringing them along.

2. In my opinion, ringing rounds is the single most efficient use of my time. I can simultaneously address posture, pulling technique, bell handling, striking in time, ropesight, and probably a lot of other stuff I'm not even aware of yet. That said, attempting to ring Plain Hunt exposes flaws I'm overlooking.

3. Teachers should be aware that instructions during the course of ringing that may be clear to more experienced ringers might communicate nothing at all to a novice. And the novice should be aware that if the conductor "shouts" at them it might be because the first couple of attempts at guidance did not penetrate your consciousness. I'm reminded of boot camp were the drill sergeant finally gets in your face and shouts "Your other left, dummy!"

4. I agree completely that one should never be told they have done something well when they didn't; it's detrimental. For me, the ideal way to get feedback on the rudiments is not while I'm ringing (not enough brain cycles leftover) but rather to have the instructor take 1 minute after the practice and tell me what I need to work on.

At any rate Dallas is fortunate to have Linda Rankin as an instructor. Now if we can just figure out how to get more people interested in ringing!

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