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    Development: Ringing - Conducting on Handbells

Conducting on Handbells

Conducting is a fascinating, demanding, and ultimately fulfilling extension to the role of a ringer, both on towerbells and handbells. The responsibilities of the conductor are defined more fully by the Central Council. For our purpose the responsibilities can be summarised viz:

  • To ring his or her own bells correctly.
  • To make the calls as required by the composition.
  • To check that the bells are continuing to ring correctly according to what has been called.
  • To assist with recovering from trips as necessary.
  • To maintain records as appropriate.

Many conducting skills such as following the coursing orders and checking that bells are correct can be practised silently and unknown to the rest of the band whilst you are ringing and someone else is calling.

If you are not yet a conductor, please work through the information on calling touches of Plain Bob Minor. Then call some touches and come back here when you have done so.

This page is the briefest of introductions to the art and science of conducting.

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Understanding a Composition

To understand compositions from a handbells perspective, you need to write them out by the changes of coursing order at the calls. Then you need to analyse the coursing order for its impact on the pairs.


Choosing a Composition

If there is one critical factor for choosing a composition then it needs to influence the choice accordingly. If you have a blend of factors, the choice may well come down to the conductor's personal preferences.

If you are a novice handbell conductor, here is a good place to start:
720 Plain Bob Minor.
Choose to ring 5-6.
Call Bob, Single, Bob, Single at Wrong, then Bob at Home.
Repeat twice.

The above calling has the following advantages:

  • It has a two course simple repeating pattern for 5-6, after the first call 5-6 ring 3-4 pattern until the single when they return to coursing.
  • The composition only has 15 calls (nearly the absolute minimum).
  • The coursing order changes are easy to follow.
  • The composition can be shortened to 540 by the omission of one block of 4 calls at Wrong.
  • Bell No 5 is the only bell to make 3rds at a single.
  • The half way change is 124356

The work for bell number 5 is integrated with the composition as:
4ths at the bob, thirds at the single, repeated 5 times.


Learning a composition

Simple compositions may be easy to memorise, but not necessarily easy to call.
The basic 720 of Plain Minor mentioned above, is both easy to learn and easy to call. The tenor is the observation bell, 5th is a secondary observation bell, it alternately makes 4ths at a bob, thirds at a single.
After making 4ths at the bob, there 4 leads to the end of the course, and at that point, Bell No 5 makes seconds over the treble, and bell 6, tenor, dodges home.
Call a single at the next lead!

A commonly used composition is Bob: WHW x 6, SH half way and end.
This can be learned as always call a bob when 6 is dodging in 5-6 unless it is dodging with 5. Single Home in the Plain Course and repeat.



A conductor needs to be sufficiently familiar with the method that he or she has enough spare mental energy to think about the next call.

Make the calls when the treble is in 2nds place at backstroke.


Checking for correctness

The only practical way of checking for correctness is to transpose the coursing orders at each call, and watch to see that the bells are following the coursing order. This is hard enough in Plain Bob until you have the skill of transposition and the necessary short-term memory skill. In harder methods it is still possible but becomes more mentally demanding as the methods get harder.

Click Notes on Coursing Order for more on the topic.


Correcting mistakes

The first rule is to ring your own pair without making mistakes, or more realistically, with enough experience to be able to recover from ones own mistakes. If you avoid trips and gaps other ringers can concentrate and the ringing will be less trippy as a consequence.

The most common problem to deal with on handbells is a transposition of 3-4. If the bells are coursing then they need to come down to lead (in Plain Bob) in the correct order. If the pair is not coursing, do double check them against the coursing order before saying anything.