Thomas A. Alspaugh
Ringing Evenly

In working to ring with even striking, I first found it necessary to count, so I could tell what was even, and then to learn to synchronize my ringing motion against the count so I could predictably make the bell sound at a specific count in the future. Along the way I had to understand the handstroke pause, the balance it requires between hand and backstroke, and how to count through it; grasp the fact that equal hand and backstrokes prevent even striking in a band; and learn how to adjust my hand and backstrokes independently.

The Handstroke Pause

Many bands, including all the ones I have rung in, leave a handstroke pause: a brief pause between the last backstroke of each pull and the first handstroke of the next pull.

The figure below shows six bells ringing in rounds, with a one-beat handstroke pause.

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Ringing with a handstroke pause

Although the treble leaves the pause and everyone else follows the treble, everyone has to leave a pause's worth of extra time between their backstroke strike and their handstroke strike, as discussed in detail below. In order for this to occur, each ringer has to ring with their handstrokes and backstrokes unbalanced: each backstroke rises higher to allow the pause's worth of extra time, and each handstroke does not. Each ringer has to become able to adjust their backstrokes without affecting their handstrokes, and adjust their handstrokes without affecting their backstrokes.

A ringers who does not leave a pause's worth of extra time between their backstroke strike and their handstroke strike causes problems for themselves and for everyone else.

The band I ring in at this writing leaves a one-beat pause, but some other bands use a half-beat or other smaller amount. A full beat pause makes the counting simpler. I assume a full beat pause in the remainder of this page.


If the handstroke pause is one beat long (where a beat is the rate at which the bells strike during a pull), then one can count straight through and use the counting to keep one's place.

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Counting through the handstroke pauses

The counting is what Lucas calls counting the compass in his Kaleidoscope Ringing. Each number is spoken or thought when the bell in that place is (or should be) sounding, so it is synchronized with the sound of the bells. It is not synchronized with the motions of the ringer (except indirectly, insofar as the motions are synchronized with the sounds).

Note that the count for six bells is not 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 (backstrokes shown on gray background), but rather

1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

where 7 represents the pause before the next handstroke. For five bells it would be

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 6

and for eight bells

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Whatever the number of bells, the count includes an extra beat after the backstrokes to set aside time for the handstroke pause.

Every Ringer Has to Have a Longer Backstroke, Not Just the Treble

It's fairly obvious that the bell in leads has to leave the handstroke pause in order for it to happen. The ringer in leads lets his/her backstroke rise a little higher than his/her handstroke, so there is an extra beat of time before the handstroke strikes. This extra beat occurs while the ringer's hands are up, on the sally, preparing to pull the next handstroke. The proportion between the two strokes varies with the number of bells.

You'll note that the fewer the bells, the greater the difference between handstroke and backstroke. See the Hunting Speeds Calculator to explore this further.

It may be less obvious but it is also the case that every ringer in the band has to ring with a longer backstroke, not just the ringer in leads. Otherwise the band's rhythm will be uneven, awkward, and difficult to fix.

The figure below shows a band in which the treble through the 5 are ringing with a proper 76 backstroke, but the 6 is ringing with backstrokes and handstrokes equal.

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Treble, 2, 3, 4, and 5 well struck;
6 poorly struck on every backstroke due to equal hand and backstrokes

The handstrokes strike evenly, but the backstrokes don't. This is a sign that at least one ringer has mis-proportioned hand and backstrokes.

  1. The handstroke pause between the 6 and the treble is only a half-beat long.
  2. There's an extra half-beat between the 5 and the 6, though only on backstrokes.

Unless the ringers are paying careful attention, they are likely to make local corrections that make things worse:

  • The treble may try to open the handstroke pause by lengthening his backstroke even further. The 2, 3, 4, and 5 will lengthen theirs too to keep pace.

    Unfortunately, the 6 will then probably lengthen both strokes in order to keep pace with the handstrokes of the rest of the band. The band will ring slower and slower but never fix the problem. My present band often grinds to a complete halt with every bell standing when this happens.

  • The 5 may try to close the gap with the 6 by lengthening her backstroke even further. But this will open a gap between the 4 and 5; if the 4 lengthens his backstroke to try to close it, the problem just cascades back onto the 3, the 2, and finally the treble.

    The treble will be in the awkward position of trying to strike his backstroke one beat after the 6's handstroke, but necessarily leaving a larger-than-one-beat gap between the treble and the 2. Again, the band may end up ringing slower and slower without ever fixing the problem.

  • The 6 may try to close the gap with the 5 by shortening his strokes. But since the 6 is ringing both strokes evenly, this will place its handstrokes too early and cause a collision with the 5 (though only on handstrokes).

    The 5 may try to strike its handstrokes earlier too to reopen a proper one-beat spacing with the 6. The problem may then cascade up to the 4, the 3, and finally the treble. If so, the band may end up ringing faster and faster without ever fixing the problem.

The figure below shows a band in which the treble, 3, 5, and 6 are balancing their hand and backstrokes properly but the 2 and 4 are ringing equal hand and backstrokes.

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Treble, 3, 5, and 6 well struck;
2 and 4 poorly struck on every backstroke due to equal hand and backstrokes

The handstrokes strike evenly, but the backstrokes are a mess. Unless they are counting carefully, the treble, 3, or 5 may think the gaps and/or collisions are their fault; for example, the correctly-strking 3 may incorrectly try to fix its collision with the 2 and gap with the 4 by striking later.

Every ringer in the band has to learn to balance handstrokes and backstrokes appropriately in order for the band to strike evenly.

How the Striking of a Bell Corresponds to Its Ringer's Motions

A ringer's bell strikes at the two moments when the ringer's hands are slowing the rope and thus the bell, while the clapper continues to swing unimpeded and strikes the leading side of the bell.

Strictly speaking it strikes a fraction of a second after each of these moments, but the fraction is so small that one may ignore it.

Pulling Now to Strike in the Future

You just have to experiment; different ringers say they think they begin to pull different numbers of beats before they want the bell to strike. I found by experimentation that my bell strikes about three beats after I start my pull. The number of beats varies a bit depending on how fast the band is ringing, how many bells are involved, and what bell I am ringing, so I always work out how far ahead I'm pulling while the band is ringing their initial rounds before the conductor calls Go.

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