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For a while i've had a lingering interest in bell ringing, but I've never really looked into it. I decided to node what I don't know, and this is what I came up with.

A lot of bell ringing is for the purpose of celebrating the glory of god and other religious rituals, but not being the most theistic guy in the world, I find the mathematical and mechanical aspects far more interesting.

Mechanically, the bells are rung by rotating them in the vertical plane. The bell is attached to a rope in such a way that when the rope is pulled, the bell is inverted (with the open part of the bell at the top). When the rope is released, it swings down (pivoting around the top of the bell). Momentum causes it to continue swinging through almost 360 degrees, until the bell becomes inverted again.

A device called a stay (a.k.a block of wood) performs the dual tasks of stoping the bell from spinning indefintely, preventing the bellringer from being dragged into the bell tower and simultaneously dampening the hopes of Funniest Home Videos contestants everywhere.

With some assistance from the bellringer (pulling on the rope), the bell swings back though the arc again and returns to it's original position.

This kind of bell ringing motion is called full circle. One of the benefits of this motion is that during each swing of the bell, it is reasonably easy to predict the point at which the bell will ring (which is somewhere around the 300 degree mark).

While predictable, the bell generally rings about one second after each pull of the rope, which makes it quite challenging to ring the bell at an exact time.

Timimg becomes quite an issue, because in general, bells are rung in groups. Each bell in a group is tuned to a different note (normally adjacent notes in the C scale).

The order in which the different bells are rung is called a method. A method is made up of a sequence of changes. Each change is an arrangement causing each bell to be rung exactly once. The simplest method is called the plain hunt and it looks like this (each change is on a separate line).

12345678
21436587
24163857
42618375
46281735
64827153
68472513
86745231
87654321
78563412
75836142
57381624
53718264
35172846
31527486
13254768

The 1s show the tenor bell, which is the lowest pitched bell. In diagrams like the one above, it's place is traditionally highlighted (normally with a red line) and used as a reference point.

Notice that in the plain hunt, the position of each bell only moves by at most one position to the left (earlier) or to the right (later) in each change. This is due to the difficulty present in contolling the timing of the ring. One place adjustments can be made my slightly increasing or decreasing the speed of the swing of the bell. This places interesting restrictions on the different methods possible.

Methods come in varying lengths. For any given number of bells, there is a maximum number of unique changes. A method which contains all such changes is called a peal. Most peals are extremely long, for example, a 7 bell peal contains 5040 changes (7 factorial) and can take about 3 hours to ring. I'd guess this is a feat only attempted by l33t r1ng3rz :)

(a large quantity of this information was obtained from http://www.anzab.org.au and http://www.cb1.com/~john/ringing/ringing.html)

As a bell ringer myself I can say that a lot of the information on this node is correct. However due to the departure of the noder(4 months now) I feel the need to offer correction in node form.

The main issue here is plain hunt, and method notation. It can be debated as to whether or not this is a method, or merely the base of other methods. The bell that pix labels the 1 in his diagram is in fact called the treble, and is the highest bell being rung. Furthermore, in methods the treble usually rings this pattern, but the other bells ring in a different pattern, starting at different points. Usually the 2 is highlighted, as this is the easiest (lightest) bell that is actually ringing the method.

On six bells the order that ringing starts in will (almost) always be:
123456
This pattern is repeated until a call is given for a method. For the method plain bob doubles the call would be, "Go, Plain Bob Doubles". Every stroke following this the order of bells changes, in plain bob doubles going:

123456
214356
241536
425136
452316
543216
534126
351426
315246
132546
135246

This is only a quarter of the method, but to work out the whole thing doesn't take any more information. If you take the last line and make the bells do what they would if they had started in the position they are in at the time of the last line then, eventually you will get round to
123456 again

The 6 stays in the same position because this is plain bob doubles. Doubles means on five bells. Therefore the first five bells deal with the method, and the 6th must stay at the back

Here's a table of numbers of bells, and method names:

singles: 3 bells
minimus: 4 bells
doubles: 5 bells
minor: 6 bells
triples: 7 bells
major: 8 bells
caters: 9 bells
royal: 10 bells
cinques: 11 bells
maximus: 12 bells

Another point: Ringing all the changes on a certain number of bells doesn't make a peal. A peal must have 5040 changes, so if on less than seven bells, then some chages must be repeated. I myself have only rung quarter peals on 5 or 6 bells, which take about 45 minutes for the 1260 changes necessary.

That's all for now. The information on this subject could fill many books so it could occupy a noder for life.

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