The music of bell ringing
Bell ringing music is like no other. It is not written on a standard score, is performed entirely from memory and is learnt by the path of the order that each bell sounds.
Bells start out by ringing down the scale, the familiar sound of bells we all know. This is written out as 1 2 3 4 5 if there are five bells involved. But to ring ‘changes’ bells change their ‘place’ in the order each time they strike. So, for example, the first strike after ringing down the scale would be 2 1 4 3 5. The first four bells have all swapped place with neighbour. Next the combination goes to 2 4 1 5 3. This time it is the leading bell, number 2, which does not move and all the others move places.
Bell ringers learn the path that their bell makes through the sequence. They remember the line of the route, which is known as the ‘blue line’. These sequences are known as ‘methods’ are have names such as Plain Bob Minor and Cambridge Major.
In bell ringing, a ‘peal’ is a period of ringing, usually lasting around three hours and with over 5,000 changes – all rung from memory of the method ‘blue line’. They are often rung for special occasions and commemorated with boards in towers.