What is Change Ringing?

Change ringing is a fantastic but largely unknown hobby. If it captures your interest, you will likely be a change ringer for the rest of your life!

Change ringing is a teamwork-based, musical challenge that is mental, physical, addictive and fun. It provides community, friendship, activity-based socializing and opportunities for travel, and can involve lifelong learning.

Change ringing initially involves learning to control the 360-degree, back-and-forth rotation of a heavy bell via a rope. Once mastered, a ringer then rings as part of a band, with each bell rung by a single ringer.

What does Change Ringing involve?

Change ringing is the ringing of mathematical permutations according to a set of rules. A piece of change ringing is rung on a set number of bells (usually 6, 8, 10 or 12 bells), and each bell rings once, as part of a predetermined ordering of the bells, before any of the bells ring again. Patterns known as 'methods' are rung, and these methods generate different permutations (i.e. orderings) of the bells, according to various rules. These methods are learned (i.e. memorized) by the ringers in advance of the ringing.

Ringing as part of a band involves simultaneously applying a number of skills: feeling what your bell is doing through the rope (bell control), seeing when the other ringers are pulling their ropes (ropesight), hearing when your bell is sounding relative to the other bells (striking), and keeping track of where you are in the method being rung (memory). Doing all of these at the same time is difficult and requires much practice, but is immensely satisfying when the result is well-struck ringing.

What are the benefits of being a Change Ringer?

In addition to the satisfaction and enjoyment of well-struck ringing, change ringing provides the following benefits:

Socializing and source of lifelong friendships: Ringers usually retire to a local pub or restaurant after ringing for food and drink, to critique their ringing, and to discuss the matters of the day. Long-term friendships form among like-minded people, and it's not uncommon for ringers to meet their future partners / spouses in the bell tower!

Teamwork: Ringers enjoy the teamwork involved in ringing a set of heavy bells together as precisely and skilfully as possible.

Physical skills: Change ringing involves controlling a heavy moving object, which can't be seen, via a rope. This requires feeling what the bell is doing through the rope using specialized bell-handling techniques that involve both fine and gross motor skills. The level of skill required increases with the weight of the bell being rung, and ringers enjoy the challenge of learning to ring progressively heavier bells.

Music and rhythm: Ringers enjoy the unqiue music and rhythm that change ringing produces.

Lifelong learning: In change ringing, there is always 'the next challenge' for those who want to take it. This can take the form of ringing more complex methods or compositions, taking part in longer lengths of ringing, ringing on heavier bells or on more bells, and/or becoming a conductor, teacher, composer or ringing leader. Handbell ringing (less of a physical challenge but much more of a mental challenge because each ringer rings two handbells) is another area of challenge, as is taking part in competition ringing (where bands' striking accuracy is judged). Change ringing is so multi-faceted that no one has ever done everything!

Travel to other towers There are about 7,000 change ringing installations in the world today, most of which are located in the towers of Anglican churches and cathedrals, primarily situated in English-speaking countries (e.g. UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada). The USA and Canada have about 50 installations, often located in major cities such as Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washinton DC, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Seattle, Vancouver and Chicago. Change ringing has a culture of welcoming visiting ringers from other towers, and ringers often arrange trips to other towers, sometimes including tours of overseas towers. These trips and tours typically combine ringing with some sightseeing and visits to local restaurants.

Mathematics: Change ringing is based on the principle of 'truth', which means that once the bells ring in a particular order (i.e. a given permutation or 'row'), that row can't be rung again. Ringing methods therefore involves traversing a set of unique rows, ending when the row that you started with is reached again. Methods can be extended and/or combined with other methods in 'compositions'. This all relates to a branch of math called group theory, and some ringers enjoy exploring this aspect of change ringing. However, most ringers don't design new methods or produce new compositions – there are plenty of existing methods and compositions for ringers to learn and ring, without knowing all the theoretical details.

History and tradition: Change ringing dates back to the early 1600s, and is associated with many historical and cultural events (e.g. royal weddings and funerals), especially in England. Casting of bells dates back several millennia, and the shape of modern bells is the result of centuries of trial and error to find the optimal design in terms of sound quality, volume, and avoidance of the bell cracking when struck. Tower bells were important historically because of the very high volumes they produce - in excess of 120 dB. This meant they could be used to send signals over large distances. Note that it's much quieter in the ringing room (where the bells are rung from), which is usually two floors below the bell chamber (where the bells are housed). Some ringers enjoy delving into the history of how bells and change ringing developed and evolved. Change ringing also has some fun traditions such as ringing in the New Year at midnight on Dec 31st.

Service: Most change ringing bells are hung in the towers of churches and cathedrals, and ringers enjoy providing ringing for church services and weddings, even when they are not religious themselves.

Would I make a good change ringer?

People from all walks of life have become accomplished change ringers. We notice that the most prevalent educational backgrounds among change ringers tend to be physics, engineering, computer science and math – i.e. STEM subjects. These STEM graduates also often have a love of music. Change ringing has been described as ‘music for mathematicians’ and ‘exercise for engineers’. However, there are plenty of other fields represented, such as law, history and music.

Learning change ringing involves learning new motor skills, and it's well-known that this gets harder with increasing age. 18-35 is generally viewed as the ideal age range for starting to learn change ringing. However, there are plenty of successful ringers who didn't start until their 50s or 60s, so age isn't necessarily a limitation -- your individual abilities will be more of a factor.

How long does change ringing take to learn?

Change ringing takes time to learn – skills are developed over months and years rather than hours and days. At the same time, change ringing is a grand enough challenge to keep you interested and entertained for an entire lifetime.

If you learn to ring at Trinity Wall Street, you will start by taking our 60-lesson training course. Each lesson takes about 1 hour, and new ringers who get to the end of the course typically complete it in about 6 to 9 months.

How much does it cost to learn change ringing?

Change ringing operates on a volunteer basis, so there is no charge for the instruction you will receive. If you become an accomplished change ringer, the hope is that one day you will 'pay forward' the instruction you received by helping to train the next generation of new ringers.

What if I start learning to ring but decide it isn't for me?

You are completely free to stop at any point. Change ringing isn't for everyone -- many people simply don't have the capability to master all the skills that change ringing requires. Your instructor will check with you regularly during your training that you're still enjoying yourself, especially if he/she sees you are struggling to progress through the training course.

Are there ongoing commitments once I become a change ringer?

No, but most people who become change ringers want to practice it on a regular basis. Ringers typically attend a weeknight practice each week, and attend Sunday service ringing when they're available.

Ok, I want to give change ringing a try! What happens next?

Great! Please get in touch with us using the form here and we'll contact you to arrange lessons.

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