Striking Tips

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Striking Tips

Introduction

Given that I appear to have a bit of a reputation for moaning about poor striking, I thought I’d better have a go at writing about the subject – even though I don’t consider myself to be anything like an expert in the field!

The first thing to say is "don't be daunted" – good striking is not hard with a bit of practice so long as you have the necessary bell handling skills. Accepted though, it’s not always easy to get the opportunity to practice – it’s a bit like the proverbial chicken and egg. You need to ring with ringers who can (and do) strike well before you can hear your own striking.

So where shall we start this little discussion? How about the old chestnut of rhythm versus ropesight…

Rhythm and Ropesight

You’ll hear plenty of people tell you they ring by rhythm or that they ring by ropesight. Now whilst it is possible to ring totally by rhythm (without using sight at all) in practice I reckon just about everyone will ring by a combination of both.

Indeed, each person will vary the degree that they use each according to the situation. If I’m ringing on a not too heavy 6 or 8, then I will undoubtedly be striking mostly by sight. Whereas when ringing a heavy bell or whilst ringing on 12, I’ll be relying on rhythm a lot more – but not exclusively.

So what do we mean by rhythm and ropesight? Read on.

Ringing by Rhythm

To ring by rhythm alone, you will be getting a feel for how fast the ringing is and thus know how fast you need to ring to ring in the same place every time, how much you need to slow down to move up a place, and how much quicker to ring to move down a place. All of the time you will be listening to your bell and fine tuning your rhythm to match the ringing.

This is not easy – try ringing even rounds facing away from the circle so you cannot see any of the other ropes.

I also believe that rhythm cannot be taught – it is a skill that comes with practice and once obtained is something that seems to just happen in the subconscious. So we will not contemplate it further here.

Ringing by RopeSight

Let me start by saying that the term ‘ropesight’ is probably wrong here. ‘By sight’ may well be better and I shall use this term from now on. The difference between the two though, gives us a nice explanation of what we mean by ringing, or rather striking, by sight….

- Ropesight is seeing which bell you are ringing after

- Striking by sight is knowing how far after that bell you need to pull – that is, how much of a visible gap do you need between that bell pulling and you pulling in order for the bell to sound in the right place.

It may be worth at this stage reiterating, as I’m sure you know already, that the visible gap needed to get the same gap between two bells sounding is dependent on the relative size of the two bells (or more accurately on the size of their wheels).

When ringing rounds, you’ve probably got a good feel for how much of a visible gap you need to leave between you and the bell in front. This gap will be pretty much the same for everyone in the rounds (ignoring the complexities of odd struck bells). But when a light bell such as the treble is following a heavy bell such as the tenor, the visible gap will need to be greater – very much greater if the weight difference is large. Conversely, when the tenor follows the treble, the visible gap is much smaller. Indeed it is not uncommon for the tenor to need to pull before the treble in order to strike after it in a timely manner.

So, in any piece of ringing, what you need to do is to build up a mental picture of how far away from each bell you need to ring. I think of this as my ‘striking map’.

To start with, the map can be quite simple – you can picture the large gap you need to follow the tenor, the small gap you need to follow the treble, and roughly fit all the other bells between these two. As you become better at striking, your experience of the bells or of others of a similar weight will allow you to picture a pretty good starting map for any bells that you ring.

As you continue ringing, continuously listen to where your bell is striking and adjust your map accordingly. You’ll need not only to adjust your overall scale – the relative gap that you need between the heavy bells and the little ones – but you’ll also need to adjust the map for odd struck bells. You may well find that you need to hold off a particular bell more than you would expect because that bell is late struck (that is it strikes later in its turning circle than is ‘normal’). It may be your bell that is off struck so you may need to adjust the gap over every bell that you follow. You may even have a combination of both of these!

An odd struck bell is not usually off-struck exactly the same on both strokes – it may be late at handstroke and early at back. So you need to have two ‘striking maps’. One for handstroke and one for backstroke.

This all sounds rather difficult to do – especially when you also have to think about ringing your bell, staying on your line and possibly putting some calls in as well! But don’t panic, once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.

How to Improve

The first thing to do is to make sure you can recognise your own bell - you have no chance of correcting your striking if you can’t pick out your bell from the rest and deciding if your last blow was too late or too early.

Few of us have the ability to recognise our bell by the note that it makes. Fortunately, we don’t have to. A combination of the following three things should suffice:

- knowing when the bell strikes

- knowing where you are in the change (eg 5th bell to strike)

- recognising the sound of your bell

Okay, the last of these sounds like recognising the note but it isn’t. Once you’ve located your bell in the rounds you should stand a pretty good chance of recognising its sound again even if you don’t know its note. Maybe this isn’t as easy as it sounds, but I don’t really think I rely on this too much – the first two are the main ones.

So to start with, ring a bell on its own and make sure you know when it strikes – you probably know already, it’s pretty much at the end of the stroke.

Next, ring rounds and locate your bell by when it strikes plus your position on the change. Start with a front bell to make this easier. Now listen to the gap between you and the bell in front and decide whether you are ringing too close or too far away. Adjust until it is perfect on each stroke. (I find counting to myself helps, either keeping the counting even – 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 <gap> 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 <gap> etc – and noting if your bell sounds after or before you say your bell number, or counting as each bell strikes and seeing where the gap or clip is.

Now move on to ringing methods (or call changes) and listen to your bell. Once you can do this you can start correcting yourself and building your ‘striking map’!

Things to look out for

There are a few striking mistakes that are often seen and are worth mentioning here….

Lazy Dodging

When dodging, many ringers don’t put in enough effort to ring quick enough to move down a place – in a 5-6 down dodge for example, where you need to be in 6ths place, 5ths place and then 6ths place again, the lazy dodger will ring in 5 and a half’s place rather than 5ths (ie somewhere between 5ths and 6ths). Once you can hear your bell you can detect that you’re doing this cos there will be a gap between you and the bell in 4ths place (the bell in 6ths place may well also clip you and frown, especially if you’ve obtained a reputation for doing it!)

Wrong Leading

Good leading is, to my mind, really important if you want to get some respectable ringing. Nothing destroys the rhythm more than a bell leading too close at handstroke (with no gap) or leaving a gap at the backstroke lead.

Many ringers who can lead well in methods where the leading is ‘right’ – that is when you lead full (two blows) the first is at handstroke and the second is at back – struggle to lead wrong (backstroke then handstroke). Leads like this occur in your Stedman slow work – take particular care with them and also the snap leads that occur at both handstroke and backstroke.

Over Eager Conductors

Here’s one for you to get your own back! We’ve talked a lot about adjusting your ringing by acting on what you are hearing – building up your striking map. This does take a bit of time. So feel free to frown at a conductor who moans about your leading the very first time you lead! Most conductors will give a band a little time to settle before making any comments. How long depends on the experience of the band.

That said, once you are experienced it shouldn’t take that long. You should be perfect in the rounds within half a dozen blows. Once in to changes it can take longer to settle depending on the bells and also on how well the rest of the band is striking. Personally, I’d be disappointed if I haven’t got the measure of the bells within two or three leads.

It’s also worth emphasizing that if a band can’t strike the rounds, they’re going to stand no chance of striking the method. I’ve known some conductors refuse to go into changes until the rounds are correct – but I think more of us could do to get ‘em right before we shout go!

In Defence of Conductors

Quite often you’ll hear a conductor making general comments about the striking rather than a specific comment (“let’s try and improve the striking” rather than “Bill, closer at backstroke over the 3 please”). I’ve heard people say that this is unhelpful and a specific comment would be better. However, not everyone, myself included, can always pick out which bell is causing the bad striking – though it is apparent that things aren’t right. A general comment can often make the band all put in an effort at the same time – some may have become a little lazy because the ringing is poor. It does seem to work more often than not.

(I would much rather be able to make specific comments – so if anyone wants to take this article further and explain how, please do!)

Conclusion

That’s it – that’s how I do striking. I hope you find at least something in these ramblings useful. Happy striking!

DAH

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