Saturday, January 24, 2009


Today I went to practice in Marietta and redeemed myself. A bit. Lets start at the beginning.

Are we all sitting comfortably? Good.

Ringing a bell is very much like I would imagine having a conversation with Helen Keller would have been. I'm talking now about ringing solo, not with other ringers. That adds a whole new world of sight, sound and anxiety. No, just me and a bell, talking with my hands, being spoken to through my hands.

First comes the gross physical movements. The tail takes you up, you pull it down, catch the sally and let it take you then down it goes as well. Lather, rinse, repeat. You can only get so far on this, even though this much is a lot to learn to do without getting tangled in the rope or, well, getting the person next to you tangled in the rope. I found the balance on the hand stroke and then on the tail stroke. This is where you have rung the bell to where the mouth ends straight back up. With the bell in this position you can leave it a good long while, let it go over and set it, or you can pull it again and keep ringing. It is a great place to know how to get to if you are like me and constantly speed up because you can do big slow down corrections here. And to do this takes practice so that you don't overpull and bang the stay against the slider, so it is an important place to know how to ring to. It is not, however, where you ring to or from most of the time.

Enter floating. This is where when you ring below the balance you maximize the amount of time the bell has to end its upswing before gravity kicks in and the bell moves into its downswing. This is for when you want to ring faster, which is lots of the time, but you still want control. Little slow down corrections. Even minute. Let's abuse a sine wave with my mad grafix skillz.
Where A is the balance (first at hand stroke, then at tail) and B in the middle is mid swing. For this very professional graphic, we are going to go back and forth and back and forth between A's to illustrate as many swings of the bell as you like. If point C is where you need the movement of the bell to end (as in to speed up), you can see that 1) you will have to keep putting energy in to each stroke to keep the bell going back to C or else the bell will fall faster and faster like a pendulum until it comes to rest at point B, and 2) you have to really finesse C for every millisecond you can get out of it. That's the float. Any pressure you put on the rope or the sally will affect it. So we're talking really fine touch. Which I ain't got yet, but I have the idea, therefore I am dangerous, people, dangerous I tell you.

I learned the other day when I was practicing raising that the main key to ringing bells is to handle them as delicately as possible. Let them ring themselves as much as possible, only putting in just the right amount of energy (at the right place) or else you develop the bad tendency to ring through a series of overpulls and ropechecks which completely destroy control and make you work too damn hard. All those Brits who are celebrating their 9 zillionth peals don't get there by making this any harder than they have to.

So there's the bit about floating. I don't even know if it is a true technical bell term or just a description, but for the blog, it's a term I'll use. Meanwhile, I'm tops at making whatever I do harder than it has to be. It's part newbie, part exuberance, part panic and 100% me.

My ringing is getting better. Today I rung a sad and ragged tenor to rounds on 8 bells and a respectable first attempt smack in the middle, 4th bells place in rounds on 6 bells. May not sound like much to those who are composing spliced surprises in their spare time, but for me it is mondo big. Keeping the mental comprehension a few steps ahead of the physical skill acquisition seems to be ideal for progress in ringing. If you already know what you need to do, the doing of it is just a matter of time. Oh, yeah, and practice. Otherwise I'll just be doing the equivalent of screaming at Helen Keller. And I just can't have that.


  1. Because you always feel as if she does hear you.

    Riveting. Srsly.

    Jell. Us.

    I iz.

  2. Exactly. And anytime you feel like coming to Atlanta we'll get you over to the tower.