Project Pickled Egg - Part 12
The Starter Seven
Project Pickled Egg aims to develop a group of Surprise Major methods to replace the Standard 8, with the degree of thought, consultation and follow up resource that could have traction. It would be a set of core methods that would teach ringers how to ring Surprise Major in a progressive way, with each additional method building on what has come before, and clear reasoning for why it adds value. The Standard 8 was never designed to do that - in fact it was never designed at all, and yet it has been used as a learning pathway for 50 years. There is great variety in Surprise Major ringing, without just making methods more difficult, and the Standard 8 hardly scratches the surface.
I was keen from the start that the number of core methods should not be eight, to avoid any direct comparison with the Standard 8. There are actually going to be at least 12 methods recommended in Project Pickled Egg (lots more weeks to go yet!), and as many ‘try also’ options. What the initial consultees found was that it was not too difficult to define the first seven, but after that the choices and paths start to diverge as there are lots of different options. So at this point, with the first seven methods presented and no great argument against them, it is time to stop for a summary.
Our seven methods, in the order they have been introduced, are:
'Cambridge' - traditional starting point, well known, logical extension from Cambridge Minor
Yorkshire - same above work and lead end order, well known, not too different below
Cornwall - 8ths place method and new lead end order, musical, easy to ring and conduct
Superlative - classic, double method, introduces turning round not at front or back and the technique of counting five pull dodges
Bristol - more difficult, but learnable in bite-sized chunks, introduces a wrong place method and new blue line features, much loved classic
Lessness - popular Uxbridge above work, familiar features below, musical plain course, new lead end order
London - wrong hunting below and above the treble, changing direction in spliced, much more challenging
If these methods form a ‘Starter Seven’, and I think they should, what would be the best order to learn them in?
In considering this, I think we should look beyond the confines of a list of Surprise Major methods, because some of the useful skills, some of the methods that will help, come from outside the group. For a start, learning a Surprise Major method without first having rung Kent Treble Bob really is making life difficult for yourself. Kent may not be the stuff of dreams, but it is a very good foundation method for treble dodging methods.
My suggested order would be:
Yorkshire (there are arguments for learning Yorkshire first)
(try also: Turramurra)
(try also: Painswick)
Cornwall (could be learned first, see below)
(try also: Double Dublin, Dublin, Frodsham)
(try also: Ytterbium, Uxbridge, Ealing, Ely)
I have suggested Lessness after Bristol only because learning Lessness after Cornwall might be confusing. In the early days before PPE catches hold there may be more opportunities to ring Bristol at practices than Lessness (and Cornwall). Also if the Starter Seven just gets increasingly difficult it may give the impression that every new method is going to be harder than the last and this isn’t the case. Coming to Lessness after the challenge of Bristol will be a nice surprise (and soften you up for London!).
Alternative pathways and stepping stones
If Cambridge Major didn’t exist, we wouldn’t invent it as a starting point for learning to ring Surprise Major. We would be more likely to invent Yorkshire, or even York.
I am by no means alone in having learned Little Bob Minor, Kent Minor, and Cambridge Minor before learning Cambridge Major. That is a good introduction to dodging, treble bob, Cambridge places and other Cambridge work. The jump to Cambridge is a big one as it is the transition from ringing formulaic methods by the treble, to following a blue line. It is useful therefore to have seen at least some of the features before.
There is another route though. If you rang Oxford instead of Kent, and then Norwich instead of Cambridge, your first Surprise Major method could be Cornwall. Don Morrison has used the Cornwall route successfully in North America and it would be very interesting to get further experience of this approach.
Thinking a bit further outside the box, another method that could form part of a pathway is College Green Delight Minor. I expect this is as yet untested as a route into Surprise Major (I had not come across it until a week ago) but it looks as though it would give a great step towards Yorkshire rather than Cambridge. This pathway could then be Yorkshire, Cambridge as a try also, then Superlative, etc.
As well as different possible pathways, there are stepping stones that can help with learning these methods. Not everyone needs stepping stones, and not everyone is going to get any. Of the 1,000 or so ringers who have rung 23 Spliced, I bet there aren’t many who hadn’t rung Kent or Cambridge Minor before Cambridge Major, although I know people now who are missing those steps out where there are bands who can support them.
A few consultees on Facebook, where less experienced Surprise Major ringers have been giving very valuable input to this discussion, have said how they found London Minor and Stedman to be useful stepping stones to Bristol Major because they introduce snippets of work (Stedman whole turns for instance), although if Bristol is taught with an explanation of its structure it would be realised that the similarities with Stedman are a coincidence.
Alternative pathways and stepping stones are difficult to test. I think we are unlikely to change habits of a lifetime without some empirical proof of success. It would need a lot of careful consideration, for instance by ART, to codify new pathways with less traditional methods such as College Green. One of the core principles of ART’s Learn the Ropes programme is the value of strong foundations, and this applies at the level of Surprise Major ringing as well.