Lots of ringers talk about coursing order, but even some of the old hands who nod along don't know what it is or why it's useful. This is where you can tell the difference between people that call a touch, quarter or peal, and those who conduct.
Coursing Order, the Conductor's friend
Put basically, when you understand and keep track of the coursing order you can put people right: not just the hand-wavey, there's a gap there "you on the 5th, fill it" sort of way, but actually keep people in the right place. You can't put people right unless you first know that they've gone wrong. By pre-empting the order in which you pass the bells you can check that this actually happens, and if it doesn't you can put people back in the right place, or if someone just looks vaguely lost, tell them which bell to course up or down, for example.
This is easier to see in Plain Methods, especially Plain Bob & Little Bob, but is also there to see in some more complicated methods like Kent & Yorkshire: you just have to learn to see it.
What is it?
The basic Plain Bob coursing order is (for minor) 53246; quite simply put, this is the order in which each bell passes the others, with the treble barging in there at some point. e.g. the 2nd passes the bells in the order 4653146531 as it comes off the lead (it can't pass itself, of course!). Seeing this is the first step.
How to put it into practice
At this point it is worth mentioning that callings are normally based around the tenor, so the 6th in this instance.
Once you are happy with this you need to learn what happens when you call a bob or single. You may have noticed that a bob at Home only affects the 2, 3 & 4, so it stands to reason that these are the only bells to change in the coursing order. The way it changes is like this:
5abc6 becomes 5bca6 53246 becomes 52436 This rotates the middle three bells in the coursing order.
Now let's say you are ringing the 6th to a touch of Plain Bob Minor. The coursing order until the first call is 53246. You call a bob at Home, and the coursing order then becomes 52436 and remains this way until the next call. You now call a second Home and the coursing order becomes 54326 until the next call. The third Home will bring the coursing order back to 53246, and the touch comes round.
Now that wasn't too hard, was it? The next call you are likely to be using is a Wrong. If you think about the bells that are affected at a Wrong (being the first call) you will see that they will be the 2, 3 & 5. These are rotated in the coursing order in the same way;
abc46 becomes bca46 53246 becomes 32546 This rotates the front three bells in the coursing order.
You can now attempt to call a touch with three Wrongs; the coursing order changes thus:
53246 W 32546 W 25346 W 53246
Now we come to the really icky part! We have seen how just using calls at Wrong and Home the same bells are affected all the time. However, we can now use both. Below is a standard 360 of Plain Bob Minor, the first half of a 720, written out with the coursing orders next to the calls that produce them.
53246 W 32546 H 35426 W 54326 W 43526 H 45236 W 52436 W 24536 H 25346 W 53246
Are easy! Simply put, a single (by definition) will only swap a single pair of bells. A single at Home changes the coursing order thus:
53246 becomes 54236
and a single at Wrong affects the coursing order like so:
53246 becomes 23546
You can now put this all into practice to produce an extent of Plain Bob Minor:
53246 W 32546 H 35426 W 54326 W 43526 H 45236 W 52436 W 24536 H 25346 W 53246 sH 54236 This is repeated (you get the idea).
Calls at other Positions
Wrong & Home are the only positions in Minor in which the tenor is unaffected at both bobs & singles. For this reason, it is conventional to keep the tenor fixed at the back of the coursing order. The other calls become a little more difficult to keep track of; they are given below:
Before: 53246 => 54326: The best way to think of this is that the last bell in the coursing order (excluding the tenor) becomes the 2nd, and everything else shifts up, this rule also holding true on higher numbers.
Single Before: 53246 => 43256: First and last swap. Also holds true on higher numbers.
Fourths: 53246 => 24536: First two become last two (excluding tenor) the rest shift down. Also holds true on higher numbers.
Single Fourths: 53246 => 24356: First two become last two, and swap (excluding tenor) the rest shift down. Also holds true on higher numbers.
In: 53246 => 25346: View this as Penultimate becomes first & the rest shifts up, this way it holds true on higher numbers.
Single In (Thirds): 53246 => 42536: Last two become first two and swap, the rest shift up. Holds true on higher numbers.
Home 7532468 => 7524368 Wrong 7532468 => 7325468 Middle 7532468 => 7534628 Fifths 7532468 => 5372468 Fourths 7532468 => 3246758 S Fourths 7532468 => 3246578 In 7532468 => 4753268 S Thirds 7532468 => 6475328 Before 7532468 => 7653248 S Before 7532468 => 6532478
Home 975324680 => 975243680 Wrong 975324680 => 973254680 Middle 975324680 => 975346280 Sevenths 975324680 => 953724680 Sixths 975324680 => 975326840 Fifths 975324680 => 759324680 Fourths 975324680 => 532468970 S Fourths 975324680 => 532468790 In 975324680 => 697532480 S Thirds 975324680 => 869753240 Before 975324680 => 987532460 S Before 975324680 => 875324690
Home E975324680T => E975243680T Wrong E975324680T => E973254680T Middle E975324680T => E975346280T Ninths E975324680T => E953724680T Eighths E975324680T => E975326840T Sevenths E975324680T => E759324680T Sixths E975324680T => E975324806T Fifths E975324680T => 97E5324680T Fourths E975324680T => 75324680E9T S Fourths E975324680T => 753246809ET In E975324680T => 8E97532460T S Thirds E975324680T => 08E9753246T Before E975324680T => E097532468T S Before E975324680T => 097532468ET
Most compositions on higher numbers will only use W, M & H as these keep the tenors together. If you are only using these, for example, then you needn't keep muttering the whole coursing order away to yourself, just the bit that will be affected, in this case just 53246. If you were going to include calls at fifths in major, however, you would need to keep the whole lot in your head.
The above holds true for the vast majority of methods, i.e., those that use fourths place calls. If you are using other calls, you will find that the coursing order will alter in different ways. For example some n'ths place methods will use n-2 calls, i.e. 6ths place bobs in Major. This is commonplace in methods such as Double Norwich Court Bob Major. In this case it is often easy to think of other positions as Middle, Wrong, Home etc. For example, where the tenor becomes 3rds place bell would be "Home" as this affects the 234, also the coursing order rotates the opposite way:
5abc6 becomes 5cab6 53246 becomes 54326
This is also used to good effect in some higher number peals and quarters to produce a more standard length without "splitting" the tenors. For example using 6ths or 8ths place calls in Yorkshire Royal or Maximus respectively will have exactly the same affect as a Before in Major.