02: Rounds and call changes

lesson Paragraph: 

Naming the Bells

  • The smallest, highest-pitched bell is called the Treble and is numbered ‘1’
  • We number the other bells clcokwise from the treble, round the circle in increasing order of size: ‘the second’, ‘the third’, ‘the fourth’ and so on.
  • The largest, lowest-pitched bell is called the Tenor. At Vernet, we have 10 bells; the tenor would logically be numbered 10, but to avoid using a double didit number, we write ‘0’

Ringing Rounds

Six bells is a nice number to learn on, so let's talk about six bells.
The simplest thing you can do is ring the bells in order, descending down the scale:


This is called rounds. It's just one of many possible rows involving six bells. A row is defined as a sequence in which all the bells sound once, and once only. For example 542631 is a row.

There are two strokes, called the handstroke and the backstroke.

  • Handstroke is when you pull the sally (the fluffy bit).  
  • Backstroke is when you pull the tail. See the video of rounds at Emley, West Yorkshire below.

Rounds come in pairs of alternating handstrokes and backstrokes, and it is normal to leave a bell sized gap before each pair. So rounds sound like this (handstrokes in bold font):

           123456123456_123456123456_123456123456_123456123456 etc.

The aim in ringing rounds is to space the bells absolutely evenly so that a regular rhythm is generated. Hesitations and deviations are not supposed to be there and, once you start change ringing, repetitions are definitely not allowed!

There are a few areas where bells are rung ‘cartwheel’. Vernet-les-Bains is one of them! This means ringing without the handstroke gap. Another two such areas, in England, are Devon & Cornwall and the Barnsley area of Yorkshire. Good cartwheel ringing is mesmerising to listen to, which is why we do it. 

You can see and hear rounds on 6 being rung ‘cartwheel’ at St Michael’s church, Emley, West Yorkshire by following this link: Rounds at Emley

Emley is less than 10 miles from Barnsley, so it’s not surprising that the rounds are being rung ‘cartwheel’ (see the note above on cartwheel ringing). It takes a few pulls for the rounds to settle, but the standard and consistency is then pretty high. There is a long tradition of competition ringing in this part of the world which may have something to do with the good quality. There are nonetheless a few noticeable errors, and you might be able to pick out which bells are occasionally not quite in the right place, and at which stroke.

QUIZ 1: One bell is noticeably slow at the start, when pulling off. Which one? 

Rounds always start with the treble ringer gettiing evertone's attention by saying 'Look to'. Then 'treble's going' as he or she is about to pull off and 'she's gone' as he or she starts pulling. Notice that bells are feminine: 'she', not 'it'.

Once rounds are underway, the conductor's job is to do his or her best to make sure that the rounds are as good as possible, calling out advice to the band or individual ringers where necessary and to stop the ringing by calling 'stand'. 'Stand' is always called at handstroke, with the bells being stood at the following handstroke. Don't worry if you fail to set your bell along with the other ringers. It happens to all of us. However, if you can never set your bell when everyone else does, get a bit of advice on your handling. Ideally, you should be able to set your bell confidently at both handstroke and backstroke whenever you want to; it takes practice!

When ringing rounds, resist the temptation to turn your body or head to face the bell you're following. You should be able to see enough of the rope on your right without doing that. You'll find that, in rounds, your rope will be something like 20cm behind the rope in front as they go up and down. The only way if you can tell if your bell is completely in the right place is by listening. This takes practice and is why your first rounds may be on as few as three bells. It's easier to hear!

If you get out of position whilst ringing rounds, try to resist the temptation to stop completely and start again. It's confusing for the other ringers if one of them stops without warning. You may need to hold up (ring a stroke slower) to get back into place, or you may need to push it in or push it along (ring a stroke or two quicker). Never try to hold up a bell which isn't under control and on the balance; it's physically impossible and will result in the bell instantly being even more out of control. If necessary, take several pulls to get the bell fully under control before worrying about getting it in the right place in rounds. 

At St George's, we have ten bells, in the key of C, so rounds on all ten gives us the notes E'D'CBAGFEDC. A row of rounds on ten looks like this:


Using these notes, we have two properly tuned rings of six bells to choose from: the heaviest six bells (5,6,7,8,9,10) gives us the notes AGFEDC. The six heaviest bells are known as the 'back six'.

We can also produce a proper ring of six using the six lightest bells (1,2,3,4,5,6), giving us the notes EDCBAG. The six lightest bells are known as the 'top six' or 'front six'. At St George's, I've christened the top six 'The Radlett Six', because they are identical in pitch and similar in weight to the six bells at Christ Church, Radlett, in Hertfordshire, where Catherine learned to ring and where we were married in 1977.

Any other ring of six we might use from a ring of 10, for instance 2,3,4,5,6,7 doesn't sound quite right! Incidentally, all rings of ten bells are tuned in the same way, so the back six or top six of any ring of ten will sound ok.

When ringing either of our rings of six, the bells are always numbered 1,2,3,4,5 & 6. That means that if we ring the back six, the 5th of the ten serves as the Treble, the 6th as the 2nd and so on.

It's common to ring the back eight. The back eight starts with the 3rd of our ten bells and sounds a descending major scale in the key of C. They are then, of course, numbered 1 to 8, with the tenor being the 8th.

When ringing fewer than ten bells, some of our ringers at Vernet regularly forget the number of the bell they are ringing and have to be reminded!

Call Changes

Ringing rounds all the time wouldn’t be much fun and can sound monotonous, so let’s start varying the order of the bells.

Because of the physical limitations of swinging heavy tower bells, the underlying idea in all change ringing is that you may only swap pairs of bells which are following each other.

So, from rounds (123456), you could change to directly 124356 but not 125436. From 145236 you could change to 154236 but not 143256

Changing single pairs by following called-out instructions is called ‘call changes’. The person whose job it is to call the changes is called the conductor. Call changes start and normally end in rounds.The conductor will generally try to include some or all of the following popular rows:

135246 Queens

142536 Tittums

543216 Back Rounds

Notice that 'back(wards) rounds doesn't start with 6. That's because, when ringing call changes, the tenor always stays in 6th position, at the back of the row. Having the tenor fixed gives a regular beat and stability to the ringing.

QUIZ 2: how many pairs do you need to swap to get from Rounds to Queens? Rounds to Tittums? Notice anything? Remember, you can swap any pair of bells as long as they are adjacent to each other in the row.


Ringing Call Changes

Before ringing call changes, make sure you're fully confident and relaxed in rounds. You should be able to ring with a nice steady rhythm and able to pick out the sound of your own bell. Ask if you need help with this! Your bell should be nicely under control, and you should be feeling the balance point every time at handstroke and backstroke.

When the rounds are settled and the conductor is ready to start calling changes, he (or she) will call the first change at a handstoke. He will simply call the numbers of the pair of bells which, he wants to swap, always starting with the one which is ringing first. So, from rounds, he might call '3 to 4'. The third and fourth simply change places with each other at the next handstroke:



123456 (conductor calls '3 to 4')


124356 (3 and 4 swap with each other)

124356  etc

Then the conductor might call '3 to 5', so that 124356 becomes 124536

Next, he might call '4 to 5': 124536 becomes 125436

Then maybe '4 to 3' (not '3 to 4', because the 4th was ringing first, in front of the third): 125436 becomes 125346.

 Here's a longer sequence of call changes, with the calls shown:


2 to 3:             132456     

2 to 4              134256     

3 to 4              143256    

2 to 5              143526     

3 to 5              145326      

3 to 2              145236     

5 to 2              142536     

4 to 2              124536     

5 to 3              124356      

4 to 3              123456    

Notice that the treble has stayed at lead throughout. It's perfectly possible and normal to mix the treble in and have other bells leading, but it's just a bit harder.


Seeing who to follow: an example.


The main issue in call changes is keeping an eye on whereabouts your bell is ringing relative to the other bells so that you know which bell to follow when a call is made. Lets assume that we're ringing the row 145236,  and the conductor calls '5 to 2', producing the row 142536.


The treble, 4th and 6th just carry on ringing in the same position. 

It's easy for the 5th. He's been swapped with the 2 so that's the bell he has to follow. 

It's reasonably easy for the 3rd. The pair in front of her has been swapped, so she now has to follow the other one in that pair: the 5th, instead of the 2nd.

It's trickiest for the 2nd. He's been swapped to ring in front of the bell he was following (the 5th); that means he now has to follow the bell that the 5th was following (the 4th). When you're ringing call changes, you need to know not just who you are following, but also who the bell in front of you is following!

So, more generally, the four things that can happen to you, in increasing order of difficulty are:

  1. You are completely unaffected by the call (if you are in front of the pair swapping or sufficiently far behind it). Just carry on at the same speed, following the same bell.
  2. You are called to ring over the bell that was following you. Hold up at the next handstroke to move over that bell.
  3. The pair ringing in front of you is swapped over. Keep ringing at the same speed, but follow the new bell in the pair at the next handstroke.
  4. The bell in front of you is called to swap with you. Push in the next handstroke to move in front. You will find yourself now following the bell that the other one was following. That's why, when ringing call changes, you should always keep an eye on who the bell in front of you is following. That may be the one you have to follow next.

It probably all sounds a bit complicated. Don't worry. The conductor or the person helping you will always tell you who to follow if you can't see. As with most things, it just takes a bit of practice. Remember the essential point: that all we're ever doing is swapping just one pair of bells over. Every time there's a change, four of the six bells just keep on ringing at the same speed. Other systems of calling changes exist, but the one I've just described and is the one we use at Vernet is the most common.

To finish this lesson, here's a clip of some first-rate Devon-style call changes, on the bells of Calstock in Cornwall. The striking (the accuracy of the ringing) is very good indeed. If you look closely, you'll see that there are some variations from what might be considered perfect bell-handling, but these are experienced ringers who have worked out what works best for them, ringing with complete confidence and focus. These bells are, like our own, rung from the ground floor, but you can probably hear that they are older and sound much gruffer. With a tenor a little under double the weight of our own, they were all cast in 1773 by John and William Pennington but have recently been rehung by Taylor's. Like us, Calstock ringers have their own website. One of the fascinations of change ringing is visiting different towers. From tiny fives to mighty twelves, from ancient and decrepit to brand-spanking new, there is just so much interest and variety. Best of all, wherever you turn up, you'll be amongst friends.