• Nigel Goodship
    Over the Covid lockdown, my experience with teaching Plain Hunt on Ringing Room has lead me to the conclusion that teaching new ringers to ring Call Changes before Plain Hunt is probably a big mistake. It occurs to me that the only reason for doing this is that it's always been done this way, but I now think learning Call Changes first leads to the focus on bell numbers which causes much difficulty in mastering good plain hunting. Could teaching Plain Hunt first be a better way? Plain Hunt could and should be taught in a way that makes it easier to learn than Call Changes.

    It's well known that one of the difficulties in mastering Plain Hunt is the transition from ringing by following bell numbers to ringing by "counting places" – knowing which place to be in at each stroke, and actually being in that place. Ringing Call Changes is all about being told (or working out) which bell to follow and very rarely is there any concept of places. Learners generally find the concept of Call Changes fairly difficult to grasp and confusing to ring. Even experienced ringers go wrong in Call Changes from time to time, so they really aren't all that easy. After a period of time when the focus has been entirely on bell numbers, we suddenly ask learners to stop that and ring by places instead, often chucking them straight into the deep end of hunting on five or six bells. It can be a long, slow, difficult and demoralising process for the learners to master plain hunt like this, and many just learn the numbers and fail to even understand the concept of places (as I discovered in Ringing Room).

    On the other hand, if taught progressively and thoroughly, Plain Hunt is easy to learn, with the focus being on ringing by places right from the start. By "progressively and thoroughly", I mean something like this:

    • Start with Plain Hunt on two bells with the learner on the 1 and the 3 onwards all covering. The "helpers" doing the covering can practice ringing by listening and rhythm, and maybe focus on improving their rope handling skills at the same time, so no need to get bored.

    • At this stage the learner will know which bell to follow, it's the 2 of course, but it's easily explained that they alternate ringing in second's place for a whole pull followed by leading for a whole pull. This simple start covers a lot of the concepts and skills of Plain Hunt with very little complexity or stress.

    • Then have the learner ring the 2 and repeat the exercise. Then put the learner on the 1 again and move a different bell into second's place before the plain hunting starts. Refer to the other bells by the name of the ringer rather than the bell number, so the learner can focus on the place number without being confused by another number at the same time.

    • Do this with several different bells starting in second's place.

    • Then ring Bistow Little Bob Doubles so the learner can ring Plain Hunt on two with different bells under them each time when in second’s place. (Doubles so that the learner still has the tenor to lead off.) Keep the emphasis on places and get the learner to try and see which bell is following them while they are leading at backstroke – that's the bell they follow while they're in second's place. This is a first step in ropesight.

    • Next try Bastow Little Bob Minor to get the learner used to leading by rhythm and listening rather than looking at the tenor, and there's one more bell to find to ring after.

    • Start Bastow Little Bob Minor from a row order other than rounds in order to vary the sequence of the bells that the learner follows (and will probably challenge the rest of the band).

    At this stage the learner has learnt and practised quite a few of the foundation skills of change ringing, while hopefully thinking to themselves most of the time "This is easy and fun".

    When the learner has completely mastered the above steps to the point where they're beginning to get just a little bored, move on to Plain Hunt on three bells, with the learner mastering this on the 1, then the 2 and the 3. Go through (most of) the above steps with Plain Hunt on 3, replacing Bistow Little Bob Doubles with Bastow Little Bob Doubles (sometime called Cloisters with a Plain Bob start), in which the treble plain hunts on three.

    Then move up to Plain Hunt on four, with Little Bob Minor as the practice method, Plain Hunt on 5 with Grandsire or Plain Bob Doubles, Plain Hunt on six with Bob Minor and, for a little twist, St Clements.

    Throughout this process the same exercises can be practiced on Ringing Room with one or more sessions between the tower practice nights. This allows the learner to get extra practice in, and a better understand of, ringing by places. It also removes the potential distraction of having to control a real bell while practising these new concepts. Maybe try a Ringing Room practice or two before the first real one.

    Although a learner should really have adequate bell control before moving on from rounds, Plain Hunt introduces the need for some new bell control skills, so initially the bell control might not be quite "all there” but should rapidly improve. Ideally, all the necessary bell control skills could be learned at separate tied bell practices where the learner can practice going through the motions of Plain Hunt focussing on how to achieve the required changes of ringing speed without having to worry about which place they're in or who they should be following.

    And then, when Plain Hunt has been thoroughly mastered, the learners can be introduced to Call Changes, probably getting the hang of them much quicker and ringing them better with the help of the now pre-existing skill of moving up a place or down a place and achieving the move with good precision. They can also be encouraged to keep track of which place they're in while ringing Call Changes.

    So, the next learner I teach who has got as far as steady rounds and leading will be learning Plain Hunt before Call Changes. Will your learners? Am I behind the times and others already teach Plain Hunt before Call Changes? If so, could you say whether this has been successful or not?

    (There's a good resource on "Plain Hunt Training Methods" here: http://www.donaldsonfamily.org.uk/coursenotes/PlainHunting/Handouts/PlainHuntTrainingMethods.pdf)
  • A J Barnfield
    With call changes it might assist if the positions of the bells to swap are called rather than bell-numbers used. Also the learner could be continually questioned as to what position they are in before and after each change and how many bells are above and below them.
    I think that the main weakness of call changes is that they do little to develop the ability to continually change the speed of the bell and the considerable amount of physical effort required to chuck lumpy old bells about, especially on lower numbers. I think that the above approach is to be recommended.
  • Simon Meyer
    I couldn't agree more. I rarely use call changes as part of the training process and, if I do, I do it by places. Some of my band can't ring call changes but have rung many quarters.
  • Nigel Goodship

    I do think all ringers should learn call changes, called both up and down with bell numbers, so they can join in with this ringing when visiting other towers, just not learn call changes before plain hunt. Very occasionally I call changes by places as an exercise and just as a bit of a change to normal, but even experienced method ringers can find this quite a challenge.

    So, I certainly wouldn't want to dismiss call changes at all, they definitely have their place in ringing generally and can sound excellent if well struck and called rapidly to a system. My own favourite is "Sixty on Thirds" called every other handstroke or every handstroke. This can certainly keep some very experienced ringers on their toes. http://www.ringing.info/plp/heatonweb_ccpeals.htm
  • Barbara Le Gallez
    I agree that this is desirable, Nigel.
    I have tried to teach plain hunt before call changes, by the route that you suggest, but have always ended up focussing on call changes, because the student needed to know them in order to ring with others.
    I would say that the best order depends on the student's aptitudes. Yes, some students find call changes difficult and plain hunt easy and in that case by all means teach them plain hunt first. But some students struggle to think quickly enough to count and remember places in plain hunt, so for them I think it is kinder to let them first take as much time as they need to get good at call changes.
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