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No, Peal ringers do help learners, all the time!

Page history last edited by R H Johnston 9 years, 2 months ago

No, Peal ringers do help learners, all the time!


The complaint that "peal ringers aren't willing to help learners" is sometimes heard, usually with the added rider "because all they want to do is ring peals". Although peal ringers want to ring peals, almost all spend a lot of time ringing that constitutes ringing training, and often ringing of a standard below what gives them pleasure.  They may not necessarily be training at the bottom level, though many do, but that does not means they are not heavily involved in training.


A ringer who spends a lot of time peal ringing typically rings in a week in two peal attempts, one or two quarter peals, rings for two or three services, and at two practices.   Two thirds of the peals and quarters involve some measure of ringing training for someone who is ringing, as do the practices and service ringing.  Given that level of existing ringing activity, most of it containing a significant training component, it is not surprising if such a peal ringer does not want to commit  to ringing at another weekly practice someone proposes to set up, especially if he thinks there are better ways of meeting that training need through what already exists.


Although the categories overlap to some extent, all competent ringers undertake three sorts of ringing:

 1) ringing they want to do for its own sake and for their own enjoyment,

 2) ringing to maintain and enhance existing competence (consolidation - typically ringing things rung a lot before)

 3) "duty" ringing for church services and special events of all kinds,

 4) ringing to support the development of ringing learners - at all levels of ringing ability - high as well as low.


The nature of method ringing can also be categorised into groups:

 1) peal ringing

 2) quarter peal ringing (and other extended ringing longer than typical practice touches)

 3) touches and plain courses of normal methods

 4) training exercises, such as plain hunt and other forms of ringing designed to practice particular pieces of work.

 5) call changes as an introduction to method ringing


In addition there is training of bell handling, which is mainly an individual activity.


What constitutes ringing training?


Ringing training takes place in all the above situations.  It is not confined to designated "practices", and nor is it something only for people whose ringing repertoire is limited.  Almost all duty ringing has a practice component, but so does most performance (i.e. peal and quarter peal) ringing.  There is relatively little ringing that does not include a training component.  It is obvious that teaching a learner to handle and control a bell is a form of ringing training, and the early steps needed to train a ringer to ring plain bob doubles.  It is not recognised in the same way that only way to learn to ring well is through ringing performances, and the majority of peals and quarter peals include someone who is a relative learner as regards what is being rung, or the striking quality it is rung at.


It is self evident that the only people qualified to provide training opportunities at a given standard are those who can ring at least to that standard, and in practice most of the ringers in the band need to be significantly above the standard of the learner.  So the only people who are available to teach at the top standard are the topmost ringers. Ringing at this standard helps all ringers realise what they are aiming for, especially in terms of the quality of striking.   As their time is limited, top ringers' talents would not be being used effectively if they neglected that to teach at a much lower level, at a level that other less talented ringers can do equally well, and very often better, as they have more empathy with those they are teaching and are less intimidating.  Nevertheless, top ringers teaching novices is surprisingly common because of the "local band" concept, but should not really be expected.  Few top sportsmen or musicians teach raw learners.


So what we find is a cascade of training.  The best ringers teach the next level down who in turn teach those below them, and so on.  Top ringers generally do teach quite a long way down the talent range through their duty ringing and attendance at practice nights, but it is not reasonable to expect them to spend much more of their time doing this because because they are training people at the higher levels through their peal and quarter peal ringing. 


Consequently when good ringers are considering what training activities to support, they do not consider solely their own enjoyment, as some believe, but also what they can do that is going to be most effective.  Good ringers know from experience what works, and so are unwilling to waste time ringing badly at practices from which people cannot learn because the standard of striking or method accuracy is too low.  Unfortunately many ringing "practices" are not very effective - for various reasons, such as poor leadership, poor band placing, insufficiently able support ringers etc.  Many have discovered that performances are far more effective - the ringers are chosen more carefully, and everyone has more of a sense that they need to ring well. 


Making progress when there seem to be barriers to progress


There are problems for ringers seeking to make particular jump steps in their ringing - for example from simple methods to surprise methods.  Not many towers can support such transitions, but where they do exist they usually welcome learners who are well prepared and at a suitable existing competence level, especially if they bring with them someone experienced who will contribute positively to the practice.  There are in many places special practices organised on (typically) a monthly basis, usually by ringing associations, and a top ringer usually runs them.  The quality of these varies, and making progress even at a good one by ringing something only monthly is painfully slow.  No "practice" is sufficient for a learner at this level to make progress - performances are essential.  (Indeed, above a certain level of ringing competence, practices are useful only to gain initial familiarity with a new method. Good striking needs much longer ringing sessions to develop it, as a good rhythm takes time to establish and settle down, and methods only become consolidated through the high level of repetition during a performance.  Ringing many quarters and peals is almost essential to achieve striking at the highest standards.)  After attendance at some practices, the opportunity to ring quarter peals is usually offered, or the learner's mentor (see below) can arrange one, and this provides the type of "practice" that is really needed to make progress.  Good ringers are usually well disposed towards supporting quarter peals for learners, provided the learner strikes adequately well, the proposed band is strong and has a good conductor.  


What rarely works, and usually soon fails, is an attempt by a learner to set up a practice himself to ring what he would like to ring.  Even if he has contacts, without mentor support, he will find it hard to persuade good ringers to attend, and all the more so the more frequent the practice.  Good practices (and performances) depend strongly on having the right leadership (which the learner cannot guarantee to provide) and without such guarantee good ringers will be wary of committing themselves.  If such a practice goes ahead, and fails to work well on a single occasion, it is likely to prove very hard to persuade the helpers to come again.


Instead the enthusiastic learner should find himself a mentor - and take his advice - he will have good reasons for saying it, which may not always be obvious.  If the mentor says that particular defects should be worked on first before attempting harder methods, fix them.  This may well mean doing individual handling practice and /or returning to revisit other aspects of basic training.  Remember that professional musicians practice scales, however good they are!  Equally good ringers spend a lot of effort improving their basic skills, though this is usually not obvious.


If the mentor agrees, learners should try to go somewhere where what they want to do (or something like it) is already being done, preferably going in the first instance with their mentor.  Any existing band has already jumped the hurdle of sustainability, which is the hardest step.  A band that already exists, and has a reason to exist other than for special practice purposes (e.g. is a Sunday service band practice), is less likely to fail.  Learners will be welcome if they can control bells satisfactorily and strike well at their current method level.  If there is any doubt about this, these deficiencies must be made good first.   The more complex the method, the more difficult it is to ring accurately and strike well.  Moreover, better ringers ring to higher striking standards, and expect learners to work as hard to achieve striking accuracy as accuracy in methods.  Quality is much more valued than the ability to ring a wide range of methods.


RHJ 30.3.2015












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