Music in Changeringing

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Although non-ringers appreciate the overall effect created by bells rung to changes, and can hear differences between call changes and method ringing, or odd bell methods with a cover compared with even bell methods, further musical appreciation is something acquired through study, generally by ringers themselves as they become more experienced in listening to method ringing. So what do ringers mean when they refer to music?

Music in ringing is the appreciation of the musical properties of individual rows contained in a touch, and the sequence in which rows are heard. The sequence of rows is determined by the choice of method; consequently one will hear people say things like "Bristol [Surprise] is a musical method" or "that was a very musical touch of Stedman". The reason for this is that people like the way that a particular method generates repetitions and rotations of a subset of bells within the rows. Methods can be rung to compositions that maximise the musical combinations of bells within the rows without causing any repetition of entire rows which would render the touch false.

For example, the first lead of a plain course of Bristol Surprise Major contains many musical characteristics as described below:

 12345678  Rounds
 21436587  Combination near miss
 12346857  1234 cascade (little bell run), 6857 is a musical combination 
 24136857  pairs in musical thirds (2&4, 1&3, 6&8, 5&7)
 24135678  5678 roll up
 23457168  2345 cascade
 53427618  pairs in musical thirds (5&3, 2&4)
 23456781  2345678 run (encompassing a 2345 cascade and an internal 5678 roll up)
 24365871  Wrap of a combination near miss (1-2436587)
 42631875  pairs in musical thirds (4&2, 5&7)
 32416857  6857 is a musical combination (consecutive thirds)
 32415678  5678 roll up
 21347586  7586  is a musical combination (reverse of 6857)
 12435768  Combination near miss
 21345678  5678 roll up
 12436587  Combination near miss

In just these few rows, a number of musical features are apparent. The back bells and front bells are kept together in groups of four. The back four bells hunt for three rows causing 6&8 and 5&7 to work together (musical thirds). They then backward hunt back for three more rows giving the same four bell combinations in reverse order, until the back four are in the rounds position again (xxxx5678). This is called a roll up, and roll ups are often counted and quoted in composition as a favoured musical combinations to listen out for. The sequence in which roll ups and other musical combinations occur is important as some methods generate them in an interesting way and some in a tedious way. Westminster Surpise Major, for example, has the back four bells dodging seven times. This generates seven roll ups in fourteen rows, but is very repetitive. Returning to Bristol, the front four bells start by dodging back into their rounds position giving what is called a little bell run, or cascade. Runs of four or more consecutive bells, either forwards or backwards are another sequence that ringers enjoy listening to - many compositions and methods, especially cyclic ones, concentrate on maximising the number of runs. The front bells, like the back bells, also work together 2&4 and 1&3, then 2&4 and 3&5, creating musical thirds. At the half lead, a seven bell run (23456781) occurs at handstroke, and adjacent pairs of bells (3&4, 5&6 and 7&8) swap. This gives similar reversed musical combinations in the second half of the lead. The bells at the front and back again work in their respective four bell groups, and two more roll ups occur. If a fourths place bob is called at the lead end, the back four bells dodge back into their rounds position, and the whole lead of music of these four bells is repeated against different front bell combinations. This is known as the extending lead feature of methods with a first leadhead of 14263857 (group f) and the three lead touch of Bristol produced by calling a bob at every leadend is perhaps a classic example of a short musical touch, as it contains a large number of musical combinations generated and repeated in an interesting way. Finally, Bristol is a double method, so all the music is reversed e.g. Back Rounds occurs half-way through the course.

As we move up the stages (increasing numbers of bells), we ring only a subset of the available rows e.g. a quarter of the available rows in a quarterpeal of Triples. So on higher stages, the composition becomes important as well as the method, as the composer can select, within the constraints of method construction and falseness, courses of the method containing better musical combinations. This is not to say that there are not musical touches of Doubles and Minor, but the composer's choices are fairly limited. In an extent of a particular method, the only significant variable is whether the rows occur at handstroke or backstroke.

At odd stages, methods are commonly rung with the tenor covering. This creates very distinctive music resulting from the constant beat set by the tenor ringing last in every row. Compositions in methods such as Grandsire and Stedman typically focus on turning sets of bells into a musical sequence (e.g. Tittums, Reverse Tittums, Queens, Whittingtons, Handstroke or Backstroke Homes) and then repeating that sequence for a number of courses before turning them into another musical combination.

The remainder of this article covers individual musical features, their nomenclature, definition and examples of how they are used.


A row where the back bells are in the rounds position e.g. xxxx567890 on ten bells. Note that xxxxxx7890 would also be referred to as a roll-up, as would xxxxxxx90, so the term is often qualifed e.g. 5-6, 7-8 or 9-10 roll-up. The term roll-up is often assumed under compositions e.g. 20 56s & 20 65s means 20 5-6 roll ups and 20 6-5 roll-ups.

Combination roll-ups (crus)

The number of combinations of 4,5 & 6 in 5-6 with heavier bells rolling up i.e. the rows xxxx5678, xxxx6578, xxxx4578, xxxx5478, xxxx4678 and xxxx6478, with a maximum of 144 possible. crus have limited value on more than eight bells, but counts are commonly given after compositions of Major and Royal.

Runs / little bell runs

A run is any four or more bells in rounds sequence, forwards or backwards. It can be at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a row (the norm unless otherwise stated). Since there is not a formal definition for counting purposes, compositions typically list them specifically (e.g. 16 23456s and 36 5432s). Some composers count using terms such as LB4s and LB5s referring to four and five little bell runs, however the lack of formal definition of a little bell means that it is unclear what counts as a LB4 or LB5 (some including up to the 7th to include runs such as 76543 and 34567).

Other four bell combinations

Other musical four bell combinations on eight bells, with their stems are:

 xxxx1357s (from Queens)
 xxxx2468s (from Queens)
 xxxx3468s (from Whittingtons)
 xxxx3478s (from Hagdyke)
 xxxx3748s (from Tittums)
 xxxx5768s (from Bowbells)
 xxxx6857s (from Bristol) 
 xxxx7468s (from Princesses)
 xxxx7568s (from Burdette)
 xxxx7658s (from Rollercoaster)
 xxxx8765s Esso-Blues (from the 1950's commercial)

Off the front

Musical combinations measured at the front of the row rather than the back e.g. the row 56782143 has a 5678 roll up off the front.

At handstroke or backstroke

As most changeringing is rung with a handstroke gap, musical combinations sound different depending whether they are at handstroke or backstroke. At backstroke, a combination at the end of the row is more clearly defined than at handstroke,as it is followed by a pause. Conversely, a combination at the front is more clearly defined at handstroke. Some compositions state whether the combinations of runs occur at back or hand.


A measure for little bell music, particularly useful on higher numbers i.e. the rows ending in ...1234, ...2345, ...3456, ...4321, ...5432, and ...6543. Like crus, there is maximum of 144 on eight bells, but on higher stages the maximum is also higher. They can also be counted off the front i.e. 1234..., 2345..., 3456... etc.

The Waterfall course

The course with the coursing order 24653, that generates rows ending ...23456 at backstroke in most even bell methods with Plain Bob coursing. The coursehead is 164523... Particularly popular on higher numbers, musically it is most satisfying on ten bells as the front six bells form their own major key group with the sixth as the tenor.

Near misses

A near miss is defined as any row that differs from rounds merely by having one adjacent pair of bells exchanged. On N bells there are always N-1 near misses possible.

So, for example, for caters, the eight possible near misses are

 213456789, 132456789, 124356789, 123546789,
 123465789, 123457689, 123456879, 123456798

If more than one pair of adjacent bells is swapped, it has been proposed that this be called a combination near miss.

Named rows

A few musical rows have been given names e.g. Rounds, Backrounds, Tittums, Queens, Whittingtons, Kings and Hagdyke. See row for definitions. Compositions often state when they contain named rows e.g. contains 144 crus, Queens, Whittingtons and Tittums.

Tittums / Handstroke Homes

In odd bell ringing, Tittums is used not just to refer to the named row, but also the Tittums position. This is the position where the back bells course down in rounds sequence to create a slow rounds effect e.g. xxxx5x6x7x8x9x0xExT with the gap to the tenor behind gradually increasing.

Another popular odd-bell position is the Handstroke Home, giving a very pleasing effect as back bells come back into the rounds position at handstroke. A large number of compositions of Grandsire and Stedman finish in this position, hence the odd number of changes.


A wrap is a musical row that is split over a handstroke and a backstroke. For example, every method with Plain Bob leadheads contains the following wrap of reverse rounds:

 18765432 handstroke
 18674523 backstroke

Another good one is the Whittingtons near-miss in the first lead of Double Norwich CBM. Listen out for it next time you ring the method - it sounds lovely:

 64821753 handstroke
 46812735 backstroke

Wraps are only effective if they cross a handstroke-backstroke change, because otherwise the handstroke gap interrupts them. It can be confusing for those listening outside a tower when a wrap of rounds occurs, as they may think that a touch has come round in the middle.

Undesirable music

As well as including leads of methods in compositions with musical rows, composers can avoid including undesirable rows. What is undesirable is often hotly debated, and there is less consensus than on what constitutes a musical row. The most common example is that many ringers like to avoid having the tenors reversed at backstroke (e.g. xxxxxx87s at backstroke). However, there are methods that have the tenors reversed at backstroke in their plain course (e.g. March Surprise Major).

Many compositions of Bristol Surprise Major produced in and around the 1970's used to quote no 82s and no 83s. These were considered untuneful because if struck together they would be a discordant 7th or 6th intervals. However, many of these compositions would be considered inferior today because the practice of avoiding 82s and 83s also eliminated some of the best little bell music e.g. the waterfall course, with its xxx23456s as well as xxxxxx83s.