Change Ringing for an American Handbell Director

by Luke Tegtmeier


Part II: Practical teaching

  • Change-ringing on handbells is generally done one Plain Course at a time. e.g. “Let’s do Plain Hunt”.
  • Always starts with the treble bell.
  • Traditional starting words spoken by treble ringer: “Look to” (Ready) “Treble’s going” (Set) “She’s away” (Go!)
  • General practice is to go around the circle twice in a simple descending course before starting a method.
  • Unless the Treble ringer says “That’s all,” it is usual to assume that the method keeps going.
  • When ringing a method, a ringer’s two bells will stay in the same order for each line - until they cross. For example, Bell 1 will always be rung before Bell 2 (see chart below). This is a helpful way to keep track which bell rings first in a given line, so many ringer keep the first bell forward on their knee or keep a foot forward. Just remember to switch when the bells cross!
  • Suggested method for teaching:
    1. Ring rounds (descending from bell 1 thru 6 repeatedly). Get ringing even.
    2. Allow ringers to choose which of their two bells will go first. This will create the effect of change ringing (a person can’t play by listening, but only by counting)
    3. Ring “Cross & Catch”. This is the musical effect of change-ringing, with the visual aid of seeing bells move up and down the line of ringers. In fact, it is ringing “Plain Hunt” (see below)
      1. Ringers play their bells in a descending scale.
      2. As soon as the scale has finished, they cross their arms and lay their bells on the table.
      3. Ringers uncross their arms, pick up, and ring their newly arranged bells, going in the same order of arms (but with different bells in those arms)
      4. This time put bells on the table, crossing arms with their neighbor, uncrossing arms, and picking up new bells. Outside bells stay in the same arm.
      5. Ring down the line in the same order for arms, but with new bells again. Repeat from 3.2.
      6. Optional: Add a ribbon to the Treble to watch it go up and down.
    4. Plain Hunt. Positions/Bells 1-2 and 5-6 are easiest.
    5. Plain Bob Minor. 60 changes possible here. Variant on Plain Hunt. See below.
  • Once everyone is comfortable with Plain Hunt, add a slight pause before the Handstroke to be really authentic.
  • Read The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers - change ringing figures into a murder!

When getting ringers to change ring without staring at a chart (which is of course the idea), it may be helpful to consider the Position number of each bell. Some change ringers do this to keep track of where they are. This chart follows the Position number of Bells 1 and 2 through Plain Hunt.

Bells: Position of Bells 1 and 2
1 2 3 4 5 6: 1-2 Bells cross immediately after being rung

2 1 4 3 6 5: 1-2

2 4 1 6 3 5: 1-3

4 2 6 1 5 3: 2-4

4 6 2 5 1 3: 3-5

6 4 5 2 3 1: 4-6

6 5 4 3 2 1: 5-6 Bell cross again

5 6 3 4 1 2: 5-6

5 3 6 1 4 2: 4-6

3 5 1 6 2 4: 3-5

3 1 5 2 6 4: 2-4

1 3 2 5 4 6: 1-3

1 2 3 4 5 6: 1-2

Interestingly, Bells 5 and 6 have the exact opposite Position pattern. Bells 3 and 4 have a different, but equally helpful pattern. Try writing it out yourself and see!

Plain Bob Minor

Finally, if your group enjoys change ringing but wants more than Plain Hunt, try Plain Bob Minor. It’s the exact same pattern as Plain Hunt, but with a slight variation near the end to give us 60 changes instead of 12. On the penultimate row of Plain Hunt, have Positions 1 and 3 make places. Then resume the pattern of switching: Positions 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 switch, then positions 2-3, 4-5 switch, etc. Work it out for yourself!

More Resources

Deepest thanks to Janet and Stuart McKernan, whose patient explanations were invaluable in decoding change-ringing. All mistakes found herein are, of course, my own.


Posted on Dec 17, 2012 6:29:21 AM
Filed Under: Instruments and Ensembles, Filed Under: review-prelude,

Luke Tegtmeier

Written by Luke Tegtmeier

Luke Tegtmeier holds Church Music degrees from Valparaiso University and Luther Seminary, and works for Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, MN, where he directs five ensembles. Though a life-long Lutheran, he has strong Anglican tendencies, as may be seen in his musical recommendations.