St Paul's with St Mary's Wooburn


Learning to ring church bells – an introduction for new recruits

Please click this link to see our article in the Bucks Free Press 9.14

Please click here to see our June 2014 article about bellringing! 

Please click here to see our Spring 2013 article about local ringing and the health benefits!

Welcome to the world of bell ringing!  English church bells have rung out for hundreds of years. In learning to ring you join about 40,000 other ringers across the countries who are keeping the tradition alive.

Firstly, and most importantly, the bells can be very dangerous if not handled correctly.  Listen carefully to your instructor and do not touch anything unless specifically told to do so.  Injuries are rare if instructions are correctly followed.

Ringing a church bell is a skill, not a test of strength.  However, the bells are heavy, and very old or young learners may have difficulty.  In such circumstances, it may be appropriate to wait until you are stronger, or learn to ring at another tower with lighter bells.

It takes 6-12 half hour sessions to learn to ring a bell unaided.  You will not be allowed to ring alone until you can demonstrate you can do so safely, without endangering yourself or others.

Most handling practice will be on a ‘tied’ (silenced) bell on a one to one basis with the instructor – where appropriate, child protection guidelines will be followed.  Gradually you will be introduced to ringing with others.  At this stage, listening, rhythm and ‘rope sight’ (watching) become essential aspects of good ringing.

After 3-6 months of ringing regularly with others you will start to ring simple ‘changes’ in the bell order, which require some manipulation of number sequences.

Once you are able to ring reliably and competently, you will be expected to ring for service – this is the main reason why the bells are rung.  Once you have reached this stage you can be elected to the Oxford Diocesan Guild, the local association of bell ringers.

After about a year the ‘methods’ of changing the bell sequences become more complex and visualising patterns will help you to understand what you are ringing.

Ringing is a team activity and every church has its own ‘band’ of ringers who work closely together.  You need the help of your fellow ringers in order to progress, and everyone in the band will be given a fair share of the ringing opportunities.  That means sometimes you will be asked to sit out and watch during practice whilst others have their turn.  But as you progress you will become more able to help other ringers yourself.  Ringers from other churches will visit the tower from time to time and they will also use their experience to help you along.  Whatever stage you are at, if there is something which you don’t understand, ask your instructor or one of the other ringers.  If you don’t understand the explanation you get from one person, speak to someone else.

Teamwork is the key to achieving good ringing and all members of the band are encouraged to contribute positively to creating a relaxed and fun learning environment.  To develop a strong sense of togetherness, the band sometimes socialise outside the tower, engaging in non-ringing activities, as well as ringing at other towers.  Competent ringers will always be made welcome in the thousands of towers across the country and hundreds more in countries around the world.

Although ringing a bell is a physical skill, ringing with others also requires you to understand the sequences and patterns you are ringing together.  Therefore, homework plays a part in ringing.  You may be able to do your homework in the tower whilst you are sitting out, or you might be asked to think about a particular topic before the next practice.  The more homework you do, the more you will get out of your ringing time.

Whilst there is virtually no limit to how complex the ringing can become, the most important aspect of ringing is to achieve a good standard of ‘striking’ (accuracy) so that the ringing sounds smooth and the bells are evenly spaced, with no clashes.  Striking is something that all ringers can concentrate on, whatever level of ringing you have reached, and striking competitions are held to test how good different bands are.

The timeframes outlined above are for guidance only.  Some ringers progress more quickly and others far more slowly, for many different reasons.  There is no right speed – your instructor will tell you when it’s time to move on to the next stage.  If you’re not happy with your progress, please speak to the tutor or other ringers – you may decide ringing isn’t for you.  That’s okay – you can’t be expected to know whether you will enjoy ringing until you’ve tried it and it can be quite different to what you imagined it would be like.  Notice especially all the different skills you’ll need to develop as you progress.

We have our tower practice on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 - 9:00, if you are an experienced ringer, or just interested please feel free to drop in or click here for more details