28: Place notation

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In Quiz 3, I suggested that you might be able to work out what the notes ‘X’ and ’16’ meant, alongside the diagram of Plain Hunt. They are examples of Place Notation, and they describe how one row is produced from the previous one. Place Notation is the way in which you notate the changes. Remember:

  • We already know how to notate the rows: we simply write down the bells in the order in which they sound.
  • The rows are what you hear when you ring. The changes are the processes that move you from one row to the next.

This is the basics of how place notation works:

If you want all the pairs to cross, then you simply write ‘X’.

Otherwise, you write down the positions of the bells (not their numbers) that you want to lie still. For example, if you want the bells in 3rds and 6ths place to lie still, you would write ’36’. There are a few refinements which I’ll deal with later. For now, that’s all you need to know.

Here are two examples examples:

1: The first link shows you what happens if you replace ALL SIX of the the 3-4 dodges in Treble-Bob Hunting with Kent places. The result is a Principle known as Forward Minor. A Principle is a subset of methods in which all the bells follow exactly the same path. Most methods (not Principles) have the Treble following a fixed path while the other bells weave more complicated patterns around it. Minor is the name given to any Method or Principle on 6 bells. Forward is the chosen name. Its a bit like first name (Forward) and family name (Minor):

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2: If you replace Kent places (34X34) with the opening places of Oxford TB Minor (X34X), you end up with a rather useless block of 12 changes which is also quite tricky to ring. We won’t be attempting it, though we might have a go at Forward Minor some time. Remember that Oxford places swap the two bells making places into each other’s positions. In this case, this swapping of pairs messes it up and results in premature death:

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It’s going to be extremely useful for you as you learn change ringing on handbells to be able to associate little snippets of place notation with the corresponding pattern made by the lines. With this in mind, study the first cross section of both Forward Minor and Useless Minor and match the two place notations with the patterns, particularly the patterns made by the bells making the places in 3-4. This connection between numbers and pattern probably isn’t something you’re going to find immediately easy to visualise. It will come with practice. The pattern made by the place notation is called the grid.

Notice that, in both Forward Minor and Useless Minor, the grid and the place notation repeat every four changes. Locally, everything looks the same, even though different bells appear in different positions. The grid and place notation are what provide the structure, and in all ringing, structure remains constant no matter what the individual bells are up to. Useful!

Most handbell ringers use a combination of line, place notation and grid to help them ring. The exact proportions depend very much on the individual ringer. Many tower bell ringers rely on the line only. If they fall off it, they all too often have no idea how to get back on it. The line only tells you what you are doing. The grid and the place notation help you understand what everyone else is doing around you and, critically, how to fit in with them.