Change Ringing On Handbells: Mastering the Art and Technique

half octave handbell set

Change ringing handbells is a fascinating and unique form of musical expression that originated in England. It involves a group of musicians, each holding two handbells, who work together to create intricate and evolving patterns of sound. People of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the challenge and beauty of learning this historic art form.

In contrast to traditional melodies, change ringing focuses on the precise and methodical progression of ringing patterns, known as “methods.” These methods are governed by strict rules to ensure orderly and harmonious progressions while allowing for a seemingly infinite variety of sequences. The result is a captivating and mesmerizing form of music that has gained a devoted following and appreciation across the globe.

Often performed in a circular configuration to facilitate visual and aural communication among ringers, change ringing on handbells provides both a rewarding musical experience and a strong sense of camaraderie. As musicians work together to master and perform new methods, they build invaluable skills in teamwork, concentration, and creativity. With its rich history and engaging framework, change ringing continues to captivate and inspire both performers and audiences alike.

What Is Change Ringing on The Handbells?

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a controlled manner to produce precise variations in their successive striking sequences, known as “changes”. This method originated in England and is often associated with church bell ringing. However, it has also found its way into handbell ensembles, where ringers can create unique and intricate patterns.

In change ringing, the handbell ringers follow a set of rules to ensure the bells’ proper order and create various combinations. These rules include:

  • The ringing always begins and ends with rounds, ringing the scale from the highest to the lowest bell.
  • Each bell must be played once, but not more than once, in each change.
  • From one change to the next, a bell can move no more than one position in its order of ringing.

Handbell change ringing often takes place with the ringers sitting in a circle to maintain eye contact and enhance communication. Proper technique is crucial, as each ringer must develop the skill to ring their bell both up (Handstroke) and down (Backstroke). Adjusting the handbells’ tension springs may be necessary to ensure ease of ringing and optimal performance.

A change ringing method that consists of a sufficient number of changes and meets specific criteria is called a peal. One popular method is the “Cambridge Surprise Minor” on six bells, where the first and second bells’ positions are tracked throughout the sequence.

Basics of Change Ringing

Ringing Techniques

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a tightly controlled manner to produce precise variations in their successive striking sequences, known as “changes”. It can be performed on handbells, providing a contrast to the melodic music of handbell choirs. Each bell in a set, or “ring,” is tuned to a specific note and is rung by a single person pulling a rope below the bell. Commonly, a ring of bells may comprise of 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12 bells.

Ringers follow specific methods, which are predetermined sequences of bell changes. One of the simplest methods for beginners is the Plain Hunt. In this method, ringers follow a sequence while maintaining consistent spacing, ensuring that each bell is played once, but not more than once, in each change.

Handstroke and Backstroke

There are two main strokes in change ringing: the handstroke and the backstroke. The distinction between these two techniques helps create the unique sound in change ringing.

Handstroke: Ringers hold the rope with one hand and make the initial pull, allowing the bell to swing upward. The handstroke takes place when the bell is at the highest possible point, creating a pause, also known as “handstroke gap.”

Backstroke: Following the handstroke, ringers use both hands to pull the rope downward, ringing the bell again as it descends. This is referred to as the backstroke.

Combining both handstroke and backstroke techniques, ringers produce controlled changes by alternating the striking sequence of the handbells.


To better understand change ringing, it is important to become familiar with some key terms:

  • Rounds: The ringing sequence starts and ends with rounds, which involves ringing the scale from the highest to the lowest bell.
  • Treble: The highest-pitched and often the lightest bell in the ring.
  • Change: A variation in the ringing sequence, where each bell must be played once, but not more than once.
  • Place: Describes a bell’s position in each change, such as “1st place,” “2nd place,” and so on.
  • Peal: An extended performance of change ringing, often consisting of more than 5,000 distinct changes, taking about three hours to complete.
  • Ringing World: A publication dedicated to the art of change ringing, containing news, articles, and information related to bell-ringing events.

Methods and Sequences

Change ringing handbells is a fascinating art form that involves the precise ringing of a set of bells in coordinated sequences to produce intricate patterns. This section will discuss some common methods and sequences used in change ringing, including Plain Hunt, Plain Bob, and Treble Bob.

Plain Hunt

The Plain Hunt is the simplest and most foundational sequence in change ringing. It involves a repetitive pattern where each bell moves one position at a time, either up or down in pitch, depending on its current position in the sequence. This method serves as the basis for more complex sequences and can be performed on any number of bells. Some notable variations include the bob minor and the double norwich.

Plain Bob

The Plain Bob is a more advanced method in change ringing that involves additional techniques such as the cross and stretch. Like the Plain Hunt, this method can be performed on any number of bells. The Plain Bob incorporates a change in the sequence where two adjacent bells swap positions, creating an interesting variation in the pattern. A well-known example of Plain Bob is the Plain Bob Minor, which is performed using six bells.

Treble Bob

The Treble Bob is another popular method in change ringing, characterized by a more intricate and complex sequence. This method derives its name from the way the treble bell, or the highest-pitched bell, moves through the sequence. The Treble Bob follows a zigzag pattern as it progresses, creating a unique and captivating sound as the bells intertwine.

The Treble Bob method is often combined with other techniques, such as the cross and stretch. When executed correctly, the resulting sequences are mesmerizing and beautiful. Notable variations of the Treble Bob method include the Treble Bob Minor and the Double Norwich.

Expanding and Extending Change Ringing

Change ringing is an artful and traditional technique that involves ringing bells in controlled sequences to create melodious variations. Handbells, as well as tower bells, are commonly used in this practice, enabling a rich and diverse array of sounds. The development of change ringing on handbells has significantly contributed to the expansion of this art form both in the United Kingdom and worldwide.

One noteworthy example of change ringing expansion is the growth in Kent, a region with a strong tradition of change ringing. Many churches in Kent have adopted this practice, and there is a particular focus on extending the art through improvement and increased awareness among the general public.

Change ringing has also evolved in terms of technique and complexity. Method ringing, an aspect of change ringing that follows specific patterns, has seen significant advancements over time. These developments challenge ringers to learn and master new methods and push the boundaries of what can be achieved with handbells. Method ringing can be observed in various towers across North America, where passionate ringers are continuously working on improving their skills and expanding their knowledge of this unique art form.

The integration of handbell change ringing in churches and towers has not only maintained the relevance of this centuries-old practice but also enhanced the overall experience for ringers and audiences alike. As the passion for change ringing continues to spread, enthusiasts will undoubtedly find innovative ways to extend and expand the art, further enriching the world of handbell music.

Virtual Change Ringing Platforms

One of the popular platforms for virtual change ringing is Handbell Stadium. This platform provides a 3D simulator specifically designed for practicing and performing change ringing on handbells. The software is compatible with various operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and OSX, which makes it accessible to a wide range of users.

Handbell Stadium offers a 3D visualization of a handbell circle, giving ringers a realistic perspective of the other bells in the circle. Using dummy handbell motion controllers, users can ring their pair of bells as they would do in a real-life change ringing scenario. This facilitates a more authentic and engaging experience for ringers while they practice their craft.

Another well-known platform for change ringing enthusiasts is Ringing Room. This platform has become the go-to choice for many ringers as it allows them to continue ringing with one another even when socially distanced. Ringing Room is user-friendly and supports handbell ringing using both keystrokes and motion controllers, catering to various preferences and needs of its users.

Both Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room provide an opportunity for ringers to connect with others in the change ringing community via the internet, fostering camaraderie as they collaborate and improve their skills. These platforms also offer a variety of ringing patterns or “methods” for users to practice, including the major scale, which is often considered an essential feature for change ringing platforms.

Virtual change ringing platforms like as Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room have made a huge impact on the handbell ringing community. They enable ringers to continue developing their skills and interacting with other like-minded folks across the world by providing adaptable tools and entertaining online environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the change method bell ringing?

Change ringing is a method of bell ringing that originated in England and involves the systematic variation of the sequence in which bells are struck to produce a series of unique patterns or “changes”. Unlike traditional handbell ringing, in which a specific melody is played, change ringing focuses on the order and arrangement of the notes, rather than a specific tune. Handbell change ringing follows the same principles as tower change ringing, with each bell being played once in each change, and a bell can only move one position in its order of ringing from one change to the next.

How do I learn the change ringing method for bells?

Learning the change ringing method requires a combination of practice, theory, and understanding of the rules that govern the technique. To begin, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the basic principles of change ringing, such as the five rules that dictate the ringing sequence. There are numerous resources, including books, websites, and tutorials, available for learning change ringing. Joining a handbell group or enrolling in a class dedicated to change ringing can also provide a hands-on learning experience and valuable guidance from experienced ringers.

What types of music can be played with handbell change ringing?

Change ringing is not a method designed to play specific melodies or songs but rather to create a series of unique patterns and mathematical permutations. The diverse combinations of changes allow for a wide range of possibilities in terms of the sound and mood produced. Change ringing is often associated with church services and special occasions such as weddings and public celebrations. Nevertheless, some composers and arrangers have managed to incorporate change ringing techniques into musically-oriented compositions, providing a unique and creative blend of mathematical and melodic elements.

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