Simple Touches

Simple Touches #

In this section, we’ll be covering some short and simple touches you can use for practice. This section will focus on touches that are short enough that it is practical to discuss which call is made at each lead, leaving discussions of “calling positions” (such as In, Wrong, or Make) for a later submodule. Examples are focused on various stages of Plain Bob as well as a few other common methods, with a few short touches of Grandsire included. It is my hope to add more complete supplemental sections for Grandsire as well as Stedman and Erin in the coming months.

What Makes a Touch #

Here we’ll be learning about calling using very simple compositions which are limited to a single method and a small number of calls. When one rings a composition, the result is called a touch. Today we’ll discuss short touches, which are shorter than a quarter peal in length (less than 1250 changes), but our focus will be on very short touches that are easy to memorize and practice.1

So, what makes a touch a touch, and why can’t you just call bob at random times while ringing and just enjoy the ride? Well, you can of course, but you risk violating one of several conventions that many people like to keep to when ringing:

  1. A touch should be true. Truth is defined rigorously by the Framework, but in common parlance a true touch does not repeat any row except that the last row is the same as the first. Some conductors are very good at improvising a composition which is true, while ringing, but to my knowledge very few start out that way — so it’s easiest to keep to known compositions at the beginning.
  2. A touch should start and end with rounds.
  3. A touch will ideally avoid rows that end with 65 at backstroke (in minor) or 87 (in major), etc. Rows with 65s or 87s at back are thought to be unmusical.

Are the above guidelines set in stone? No, they are not, and people do sometimes ignore them for a variety of reasons. Some people don’t bother ensuring the truth or musicality of every practice night touch as long as it’s useful for some other pedagogical purpose. Starting a composition from a place other than rounds can also be a useful pedagogical tool. However, most of the time, most callers and conductors keep to true, musical compositions that start and end with rounds; so I’ll give you a few of those here to practice with.

A first touch #

In my experience, it is traditional for a ringer’s first experience calling to happen as an immediate consequence of some tower captain saying something like: “Well, have you ever called a touch? I know a simple one of bob doubles, it’s just…”

Perhaps you’ve had that experience and perhaps you haven’t; in any case, I wouldn’t want to deprive you.

Well, have you ever called a touch? I know a simple one of bob doubles, it’s just 2 bobs in a row! Yes, that’s right, just catch hold of the treble there. Call a bob every time you pull your backstroke in two. (Here another ringer helpfully interjects: “But only do it twice! And when you get to rounds don’t forget to say that’s all!”). Ready? Go!


For a first touch, I like to suggest that the ringer choose a method they (and ideally, everyone in their band) is comfortable with. For many bands, Plain Bob Doubles is a natural choice, so the first touch that we discuss here will be this simple (if not easy, for the first-timer!) touch of Plain Bob Doubles. Touches of other methods are given below if you are part of a band that prefers other methods.

As mentioned above, this first touch consists of two bobs, right in a row with one another. That is, when you get to the end of the first lead, you’ll say “bob”; at the end of that lead, you’ll say “bob” a second and final time; and the bells will pull into rounds at the backstroke of the treble’s lead.

Very short touches are often notated this way:


Plain Bob Doubles

20 bb


The method is given, the “20” shows how many rows there are in the composition (not counting the one that’s repeated), and each ‘b’ represents a lead with a “bob” called during the lead end. In Calling It Round, “lead end” will refer to the two rows of the treble’s lead and the change between them. This is a common, but slightly imprecise,2 usage of the term and not everyone does it this way!3

I really like this touch as a first touch, and let me tell you why.

  1. It’s easy to memorize
  2. It’s a method that is comfortable for many ringers
  3. It’s very short, so you definitely have time to try it again
  4. It’s a treat to ring from the treble. You don’t have to remember what to do at a bob while also calling a bob; you can practice just one thing at a time.

Compositions like this, where you make the call ‘bob’ at every lead, are called bob courses. A bob course can also be a touch that is the same length as the plain course, but has bob and plain leads in it. Many of the simple touches I’ll present below are bob courses!

Several more short practice night touches #

These practice night touches were chosen for being short (so that they can be put in notation that is easy-to-read) and for being true in commonly-rung methods. For each touch in this table, I put the method, the number of rows, the composition, and some notes. Calling from the treble is appropriate for every touch; calling from an inside bell will be easier for some touches than others, and this fact is noted where appropriate.

A brief side note: I know that many bands ring a good deal of Grandsire. Grandsire is a lovely method! However, it does behave somewhat differently to Plain Bob and the other methods I’m focusing on here. I am going to include a few Grandsire compositions below, but I’m really not doing it justice; I want to add an entire supplemental section (or whole chapter?) on Grandsire at some point in the future. For now, if you want to try calling some Grandsire, here’s the most relevant difference at this stage: The calls are made at the treble’s handstroke in 3 (a whole pull before they take effect: right before the lead end).

In this table, ‘b’ is for ‘bob’; ‘s’ is for ‘single’; and ‘p’ is for ‘plain’ (no call). Spaces are not meaningful; they just chunk up the composition so patterns are easier to spot.

Method Length Composition Notes
Plain Bob Doubles 20 bb Called from the 2 or 3, you plain hunt the whole time.
Plain Bob Doubles 60 pb pb pb Called from the 4, you make every bob.
Grandsire Doubles 20 bb A bob course of Grandsire Doubles – everyone’s affected!
Grandsire Doubles 60 pb pb pb Called from the 5, this is known as “calling yourself half hunt”. You do the same work every two leads.
Grandsire Doubles 120 pb pb ps pb pb ps Turns the previous touch into an extent.
Plain Bob Minor 72 ppb ppb Called from the 4, you make every bob.
Grandsire Triples 42 bbb A bob course of Grandsire Triples.
Cambridge Surprise Minor 120 bbbbb This one is deceptively tricky, but fun!
Kent Treble Bob Major 96 bbb Easiest from the treble or the back 4 bells. Often called “Three leads of Kent”.

This collection is a very cursory look at some simple touches, but there are many collections of touches using this notation that you can use as you begin to practice calling. I will cover other excellent resources for compositions such as CompLib or ringing.org at a later time. For now, I recommend the following sites for collections of simple touches:

I’m sure there are other wonderful resources for touches using this notation out there; go forth and find! If you are the finder or creator of such a resource, please feel free to reach me and I will add it to this space.

Aside on notation: Note that the Banners' site contains touches in a very slightly different format. There, you read the calls off the left-hand column of the touch. A hyphen ‘-’ is a bob, an ‘s’ is a single, and a blank space indicates a plain. For example, consider the touch below: a 60 of Plain Bob Doubles from their site.

A touch of Plain Bob Doubles.

Ignoring the numbers on the right-hand side, and focusing on just the left-hand annotations between the 4-dash lines, you can see a blank space (a plain) followed by a ‘-’ (bob), repeated twice to give “ - - -” or what we saw above as “pbpbpb”. Remember that the spaces in my table didn’t have meaning, they were just separators to show the pattern, so “pbpbpb” is the same as “pb pb pb”. The asterisk by the 60 indicates that the touch has been checked and is true. The authors also helpfully note some of the musical rows that turn up in the touch; here, Reverse Rounds (543216) and Kings (531246).

Exercises #

Try this #

Try calling the simple ‘bb’ touch of Plain Bob Doubles. You can either practice at your home tower or handbell practice, or online — Ringing Room supports calling bobs, and can supply “robot ringers” that respond to you if you’d rather practice by yourself at first. If possible, ask an experienced caller or conductor to “shadow” the composition, or watch over the ringing while you are calling. They can help you if you get muddled, and give you advice afterwards on how to improve. And of course, if at first you don’t succeed: try, try again!

Write this #

This exercise is designed to help you work out the “bones” of a composition, including how to tell which bells will be “easier” or “harder” to call from.

Here’s a composition of Plain Bob Minor: bbb. How many changes long is this touch? Don’t forget: traditionally, we don’t include the repeated row of rounds in this total. Write out the touch, including all of the rows. What do you notice about the path of the 2? The 3? Which bell makes each bob?

Compose this #

You’ve seen a few simple touches — and you are beginning to develop skills that will help you compose short touches yourself. These skills may be useful (or just fun to develop!) as you progress.

The composition ‘bb’ results in a true touch of Plain Bob Doubles. The composition ‘bbb’ results in a true touch of Plain Bob Minor. Can you write down a bobs-only, true composition for Plain Bob Triples? What about Major? Advanced: Write a sentence or two about the patterns you notice across all of these compositions. Which bells make the bobs? Which don’t?

Note that in general, two examples do not a pattern make, and patterns are not always so obvious. But symmetry and patterns form a large part of the basis for composing, and are I think one of the most beautiful parts of ringing.

Notes #


  1. Touches can be very short or very long. A peal is a type of touch! However, when most people refer to ringing a touch on, say, a practice night, they are referring to a reasonably short length of ringing; maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Most ringers (and tower captains!) would be annoyed if you told them you were going to call a touch and then you called a peal-length touch! ↩︎

  2. There is not wide agreement on exactly where a lead begins and ends, and exactly which changes are contained in a lead, though there are two common groups of thought (and, I’m sure, other groups of thought that are less common!).4 While it is generally agreed upon that the lead end row is technically the row containing the treble’s handstroke lead, the term “lead end” in common usage refers more often to either the two rows in the treble’s lead (in this case, 165432 and 164523) and/or to the lead end change itself, that is, the change that results in the transformation from the lead end row to the lead head row.

    A lead of Little Bob Minor
     ↩︎

  3. Here’s some of my reasoning for this decision, if you’re curious. In the ringing chamber, it is relatively unusual to hear the words lead head shouted (unless ringers are somewhat heatedly discussing a composition in advance of starting ringing!). As a general rule: If one is thinking about composing, one will likely want to remember the exact distinction between lead heads and lead ends. If one is thinking about conducting, likely one will ignore the fine distinctions and think about the more general, broad use of the term lead end to mean the last two rows in a lead and the change between them. As this publication has the teaching of calling and conducting as its primary aim, I will use the broad sense of lead end throughout, only referring to lead heads where it would otherwise be confusing to the reader. ↩︎

  4. Here are the two main philosophical camps I see in popular use:

    A lead of Little Bob Minor

    Camp 1: The lead head of this lead is rounds, and rounds is the first row in the lead. The last row in the lead is the row 165432, and therefore the lead is contained between two different times the treble is leading (the end of its lead, and the beginning of its next lead, inclusive). This interpretation is intuitive from a graphical perspective (starts when the treble is in 1, ends when the treble is in 1) and allows for the lead head and lead end both being included in the actual lead.

    Camp 2: The lead head of this lead is rounds, but rounds is not contained in the lead itself. Rather, the lead consists of all of the rows that result from the application of the changes of the method to the lead head. The last row in the lead is therefore 164523, which is also the lead head of the next lead. This interpretation is consistent with the CCCBR Framework for Method Ringing and with the way many people think about splicing methods; it is also the interpretation that I personally favor. (A mathematical aside: under this interpretation of a lead, a method is a function from a lead head to a set of rows) ↩︎