Learning Quarter-Length Compositions (or Longer) #
In this concluding section of the chapter on Calling, we’ll be covering learning quarter-length or longer compositions. I debated for a long time whether to put this section in the Calling chapter or the Conducting chapter, because once you are calling longer compositions it is frequently very helpful to begin checking the ringing (conducting); however, it isn’t necessary and I know I certainly wasn’t checking the ringing when I called my first quarter peal.
So here we’ll talk about strategies that you can use to read and learn longer compositions, such as might be appropriate for a quarter-peal or a peal. Whether you’ve already called several quarters and a peal or whether you’ve just started calling touches at practice night, it’s extremely useful to know the strategies that you can use to understand and “chunk up” longer compositions to make them easier to remember. So, to start off this chapter, we’ll discuss a couple of the ways that I personally find useful when thinking about reading and learning longer compositions. We’ll start with how to read long-form compositions, using the most common notation, and then we’ll cover strategies for learning them effectively for conducting purposes.
Throughout, we’ll use the same quarter peal composition displayed in different formats. You may find one format easier than another, and this preference may change over the course of your journey as a caller or conductor. It may feel like the below is more of a Composition Library tutorial than a briefing on how to conduct; but the reality of the situation is that “in the wild” you will see compositions in a huge variety of notations and styles, and Composition Library is one of the best tools available to the modern ringer for seeing a given composition presented in many styles at the click of a button.
How to read and learn a composition (by leads) #
First we’ll review a familiar compositional layout, with a few new bits. This example on the left shows each lead of the first part a 720 of Plain Bob Minor. Since a 720 of Minor is an extent, ringing this composition twice would make a quarter peal. It would come round in the middle and the ringers would then keep going.
You can see the calls are in familiar places; only at Wrong and Home. Recall that “sH” means there is a single called at the last Home in the part. The two new pieces that we haven’t discussed before are the meaning of the phrase “6 part” and the brackets with note. The lead heads are all displayed on the right side of the composition (recall that the lead head is most often the backstroke row of the treble’s lead; so after any call has taken effect).
In this context, “6 part” means that you will call the basic block that you see on the page a total of 6 times. Note that this is the same as “Repeat 5 times” (since you have to have rung it once to start with and 1+5=6). Different sources will use different conventions, and it is important to be careful to know which one you are looking at or you might end up with an extra part or a missing part and a very confused band!
The brackets around the [sH] indicate that the single at Home is not to be called in every part. Instead, it is only to be called in some subset of the parts. In this composition, the single at Home is meant to be included in parts 3 and 6. This can sometimes be notated as “sH at half-way and end”, which is the same thing.
Using the “lead by lead” layout has a few advantages. For one thing, you can easily see at a glance who is involved in each of the calls. So for the second bob at Wrong, I can see that the 3 will make it and the 4 will run in. Note, though, that different bells can (and will!) do different work in the other parts.
You can also see that the Home in the first course is right next to the Wrong of the second course, which might be a useful reminder.
How to read and learn a composition (by courses) #
A more concise way to state the same composition is shown on the right. You can see that instead of showing every lead head on the right-hand side of the composition layout, only the course heads are shown. This cuts out a lot of information that you may want! However, some people may find this condensed format much easier to memorize, depending on personal memorization style.
Here, the “-” stands for bob and the “s” stands for single as usual. The column headers “W” and “H” indicate the calling position. The brackets around “s” mean that the call isn’t included in all parts; the footnote further clarifies that one out to include it in parts 3 and 6. When you see brackets in a composition, make sure you know what they mean and how they affect the composition before ringing.
If the meaning of the bracketed single is still elusive, perhaps a look at the following view will help. This view also shows each course head (rather than each lead head), but it shows every part rather than just showing one part and telling you “6 part”. The heavy solid lines separate out the different parts and indeed there are six of them. With this layout, it may be easier for you to visualize where exactly where the singles go.
Memorization tips #
If you’ve had musical training, perhaps you’ve had to memorize a piece of music. The leap from reading from the sheet music — with its orderly dots and lines — to being able to recall complex passages from memory is, for many, a significant challenge. Even when starting very young, it can take years to build up the skills required to move from the passive intake of sheet music to the active, and ideally perfect, recalling from memory of a complex composition.
Ringing is no different. Traditionally, ringers haven’t used any form of visual aid for hundreds of years, and conductors haven’t either. That means that you have to effectively memorize something that may be very complex, and act on that information while pulling a rope or ringing two handbells. However, the ability to memorize compositions, even long ones, is a learnable skill! It just takes building up slowly.
Here we’ll discuss some tips that you can use when you are first “learning to learn” compositions. Not everything works for everyone — something that is extremely useful to one person might be ruinous to someone else — but I hope by presenting a variety of techniques you might find one or two that are useful, or it might spark a brainstorm where you think of something new entirely!
Tip 1: Look for structure #
If I told you to memorize “bpppbbppppbpppbbppppbpppbbpppp” on its own, you would probably find it challenging unless you realized that there was a regular, repeating pattern of the bobs and singles, which can be revealed by spaces: “bpppb bpppp bpppb bpppp bpppb bpppp”.
Most compositions have some sort of repeating structure that you can use. The above composition is a 3 part so it repeats itself twice; that’s one-third the learning for you! Choosing compositions with several parts when you’re starting out is an easy way to make the memorization a little easier. Of course, it is possible to go too far the other way and choose 12 or 15 part compositions where the danger is more on the side of forgetting whether you’ve rung 11 or 13 courses. But in general, a composition with 2 to 6 parts will save you on memorization (as long as the parts themselves aren’t too difficult).
There are also other types of structures to be aware of. For example, bobs often come in sets of three. This fact is due to the underlying mathematics of composition, but we don’t have to worry about the why so much; this pattern is pervasive in many compositions and you’ll start seeing it everywhere now that you know! In the composition above, notice that in each part there is a bob at Home and once you’ve hit three bobs at Home, you need a single at Home. This is not a coincidence.
Similarly, singles often come in sets of two. The 720 of Plain Bob Minor a few paragraphs above shows this nicely; there is a single at the middle and a single at the end. This, too, is no accident and is due to the mathematics of composition but can be tucked away as a handy neat fact. Maybe someday it will come to your mind as you’re contemplating whether the next lead is a bob or a single!
Tip 2: Turn it into words (or a picture, or a song, or…) #
Many people find they have a preferred way or ways that they memorize information, whether they’ve thought about it or not. Do you have to make up a silly song to remember phone numbers? Do you simply visualize a map in your head when recalling how to get from Point A to Point B? Do you prefer when the teacher writes everything on the board, or do you like it more when lectures are given purely verbally?
Take a minute to reflect on how you learn best and how to transform that into a successful strategy for learning compositions. I can give you an example for how I learn compositions (this is, incidentally, also the way I learn complex new methods; so the skills are transferable!). I like to turn the composition into a set of words that I can then easily memorize. For example, for the 720 above, I would remember it as “Wrong Home Wrong three times, single at middle and end”. It’s only 10 words long, they’re all pretty short words, and I can have it memorized fairly quickly. I can repeat it to myself while I conduct, as well.
Very visual learners may find it easier to simply take a mental snapshot of the composition as it appears on the page. Others use different strategies; there are probably about as many strategies as ringers. So, thinking about the ways in which you memorize other information and figuring out how to apply that to compositions will be well worth the time.
Tip 3: Repeat, repeat, repeat #
Finally, the best advice I have is also the least exciting. The best way to get better is just to practice and repeat. If you can’t reliably repeat the composition (in some form), have a friend help you out. Repeat it to yourself (or visualize it, or whatever) as you bike to work, brush your teeth, or chop vegetables. I hear some ringers even keep laminated sheets in their shower to avail themselves of some steamy revision time! The more you study and practice, the more you will get out of it.
Find this #
A key component to learning and memorizing long, complex compositions (or methods, or anything really) is your ability to find and exploit patterns to make your life as easy as possible. With that aim in mind, let’s practice a few types of pattern-finding you might find useful. For all the questions below, assume we’re talking about Plain Bob Minor.
Think about the two touches we dissected above. Is the number of parts always equal to the number of courses?
Try this #
Pick one of the compositions that you’ve seen so far in Calling It Round and try to memorize it in whatever way works best for you. Decide a few times over the next few days when you will test your memory (without peeking first! But feel free to check yourself after reciting). Reflect on what was easy and what was hard to recall each time and make sure to reinforce the bits that you got wrong.