AbelSim, Mabel, Mobel and Methodology can be used at any stage in the bellringer’s learning journey – this article describes their use for the new recruit, and for supporting learning at the more advanced stages of the Exercise. Android, iPhone, Windows, iMac covered …
Unless otherwise attributed, the following views are my own, based on fairly extensive use of ringing methods on AbelSim and Methodology, and learning (but not teaching) my first dozen or so methods. The section on Mobel has been provided by Tim Davis. Contributions on Virtual Belfry and Ringbell have been kindly provided by Matthew Sorell and Gary Lauderdaleall via the Facebook group “Bellringers”. Please use the reply box at the bottom of the page if you have more to add to this article.
Learning to Ring – an overview
The early stages of learning to ring Church Bells, are all about learning to handle a bell with confidence, so that the sound of the bell can be produced in a controlled and accurate manner. Once a learner can handle a bell confidently, they will progress to ringing Rounds (the bells all ringing in order, treble first, finishing with the tenor. The next stage is usually to learn Call Changes (The tune changes periodically, according to the instructions of the conductor), and then, everywhere except the West Country, the learner is ready to venture into the world of Method ringing (where the bellringers follow a predefined composition and the conductor is responsible for calling the start, bobs and singles, and the return to rounds at the end). Down the line, the experienced bellringer progresses by learning to ring a greater repertoire of methods, and may choose to learn to conduct.
Learners often wish to dip into higher level skills that they can ring in the tower, There are excellent books availble from CCCBR (often there are several books available in your tower), and many bands own a set of handbells which the learners can use to get to grips with call changes and methods. A recommended book for beginners is The New Ringer’sBook (£9.50) There are also 3 simulator packages which you can use on your computer/phone.
AbelSim for Windows PC (£20)
Abel is the most well known of the simulators, and is used in many towers to enable one or more people to ring tied bells whilst the bell sounds are produced, inside the ringing chamber, by the computer. Abel can be downloaded for £20 onto your Windows computer at home and you can “ring” by pressing a key each time you want your bell to sound. Abel has a comprehensive library of methods, and can also be programmed with new ones if you are experimenting with composing yourself. Obviously “ringing” a method using AbelSim at home is not the same as the real experience of ringing it in the tower, as you have taken out the need to control a heavy bell in order to produce the sound. However it can be a very useful additional learning tool for the aspiring method ringer, because you can put in as many hours’ practice as you like without having to find a team of willing ringers and a church tower! Motives for using AbelSim might include:
- The new recruit can practice Rounds and then, when that is mastered, call changes, on AbelSim, in the same way as handbells may be used during a training session, to aid the understanding of the theory without having to handle a big bell.
- The Tower you normally ring at only has six bells, and you want to learn an 8-bell method prior to visiting an 8-bell tower.
- You can just about ring Plain Bob on the 2nd, and you want to learn to ring it on other bells.
- You have mastered the Plain Course of a method you are learning, and you want to have a go at ringing it with the Bobs and Singles
- You ring with a band who, collectively, have earmarked a method for the next practice, and you want to spend time practicing it in advance, in order to hit the ground running.
- You want to listen to methods which are difficult to ring, to hear their music. (There is a rich variety of recordings of tower bells on YouTube too, which is well worth browsing!)
- You enjoy sitting down at the computer and playing with methods, you can treat it like a game and get a score at the end!
- There’s one part of a method that you know catches you out, and you want to be able to work on it intensively.
- You want to get to grips with a particular touch of a method – Abel is pre-programmed with a variety of touches and you can also program your own
- You want to try conducting a method (ie calling the bobs and singles yourself)
- You want to compose your own method or series of call changes and see what it sounds like
At the time of writing, Abel can be downloaded for £20. It is powerful, enjoyable and very robust bellringing tool with a well-thought-through user interface and a clear and comprehensive help system. If you like the sound of it but want to try it out first, why not ask an owner to bring their laptop to a practice and have a go (or better still, arrange to have a go between the “before” and “after” ringing at your next wedding! It can be used with headphones if you don’t want to disturb other people.
Mabel for Mac
This is are from the AbelSim stable, Mabel (for Mac) is equivalent to Abel for home use but does not interface with bells in the tower.
Mobel for iPhone and iPad (£5.99)
Tim Davis has contributed this extract from abelsim.co.uk : “Mobel lets you practise any method on 4 to 16 bells, ringing a single bell or, for handbell ringers, a pair. You can ring plain courses, or touches with bobs and/or singles that Mobel calls, or spliced. You can conduct touches of single methods, with bobs and/or singles. If you choose the Tower Bells option, Mobel displays pictures of sallies and tail ends, uses tower bell sound, and rings at tower bell speed. If you choose the Hand Bells option, Mobel displays pictures of handbells, uses handbell sound, and rings at handbell speed. You can select from over 17,000 methods, and can edit methods to create new ones, including Doubles Variations. You can vary the speed of the ringing, and ring with handstoke gap or cartwheeling. You can have Mobel wait for you if you hesitate while ringing a bell – or it can carry on in perfect rhythm. Optionally, Mobel will give you marks out of 10 for your striking.
Mobel can display the blue line for any method, showing all the rows or just the lines. Mobel shows the diagram for bobs and singles, if these are defined for the method. You can use pinch gestures to change the scale of the display, and swipe left and right if the picture is too big for the screen. With the Hand Bells option, Mobel displays the lines for both the bells you’d ring.” When I last spoke to the author, he thought Mobel was much the better option for learning methods, leaving Abel for use primarily when a simulator is connected to a tower bell (or dumbell).”
To read more about Mobel, visit abelsim.co.uk and click on Mobel News
Methodology for Android (Free)
Methodology is the simulator of choice (IMHO) if you want to use one on your Android phone. It is available for download free and is a useful and versatile tool. It has some of the features of AbelSim, and is invaluable when:
- You have been asked to ring a method you are confident with, but you want to quickly check your start before you ring. A pre-printed method diagram (or blue line) puts the blue line onto a pre-chosen bell (often the 2) and is slightly harder to use if you want to start from another bell. Methodology lets you choose the blue line bell, and very helpfully also offers a “2nd bell” feature which sets up a pale blue line. This is invaluable if you want to see the interaction between yourself and your Course Bell, for instance.
- The screen is clear enough that with reasonable eyesight you can put it on the floor and refer to it for a confident start. This may cause apolplexy among traditionalists but I personally would rather ring the start correctly than spoil the touch for everyone else just because I am still learning! You can’t fit the whole plain course on the screen 😦 but it’s a great boost at the beginning (or in the fiddly bit in the middle where you tend to get lost).
- You want to stand behind a ringer during a difficult method – you can follow down the blue line as the method progresses, and this is a good way to engage with a method when you are learning it. Of course you could use the Diagrams book (which is in 99% of towers) but I can’t easily read that in dim light, as it uses rather small print. As soon as the first Bob or Single is called, your observed bell will probably shoot away in a different path and it is a challenging task to work out which section of the method they are now ringing!
- You are discussing a method in the pub and have reached the point where hand-waving and verbal description of double dodges has begun to lose you because you need to SEE the blue line.
- You have an idle moment and no signal – plenty to do without going online
You are aspiring to ring your first method – The transition from Plain Hunt to Plain Bob or Grandsire (or whichever is the first method of choice in your band) can be a struggle and it is very nice to be able to ring through it over and over again. On the screen pictured left (above if you are reading this article on a phone), the user is “ringing” Plain Bob by choosing left-arrow (ring my bell sooner on the next change), down-arrow (Make the same place) or Right-Arrow (ring my bell later on the next change). They have switched off the display of the bell numbers so all they have to work on is their own blue line and the black treble line. In the moment shown, a Single has just been called which they have navigated correctly. A score is kept at the top so you can get a sense that you are improving. You have as long as you like to make your mind up on each “move”.
- Methodology also allows you to ring the method in real time and hear the bell sounds. (including hear the mistake you are making!). This option will only simulate a Plain Course. By using headphones, and having your phone in your pocket, you can be “ringing” a method when you are out and about, waiting for a bus, being a car passenger, etc etc.
- Honesty compels me to report a bug – if you leave a simulation, use another program and return, it usually crashes very gracefully and you will have to start again. This, for a free package, is I think a forgivable error. The producer is aware of it.
Methodology was the first App I downloaded when I bought my first Smart Phone, and it was easy (and free) to install. I then spent a bewildered half an hour trying to make something happen! Googling the problem reassured me that I wasn’t the only one, and that the struggle WAS well worth it (all the reviews are 4- or 5-star), and random button presses eventually revealed the library of methods and let me load Grandsire and start ringing. The Solution to the problem getting started with methodology is you need to know what button your particular phone regards as the menu button. On my HTC Desire it is the bottom right hand button, held down (just touching the same button does something completely different). This displays a menu in every application but at that time I wasn’t yet aware of it, and of course, because it varies from Android to Android, the software writers can’t give you instructions from inside the App. So the thing to Google if this happens to you, when you buy a new phone and download Methodology straight away, is to Google your particular handset to find out which is the menu button. Once you are looking at the menu screen, the package is very easy to understand and drive.
The Music of Change Ringing
Bellringers are all different and there are at least 6 ways of navigating yourself through a method as you ring, some of which are visual (looking at them movement of the other ropes), numerical (based on counting bells), cues from other bells (memorising who to follow, or coursing order) or auditory (based on hearing the position of the treble, or your place in the tune). Most ringers use a combination of several of the six, and may well vary their approach from method to method. If you make heavy use of one or more of these simulators, you can repeatedly hear the method perfectly rung (all of these packages offer a “sit back and listen” mode). You may well find, under these circumstances, that you start to recognise chunks of the music of the methods. Back in the real world, this familiarity with the tune can be enormously helpful if you get a little bit lost, but above and beyond that, it can start to engage you with the very real musical beauty of bellringing. Many methods, for example Grandsire, Stedman, and Yorkshire, are equisitely musical, and to be able to hear and appreciate that will very greatly enhance your enjoyment of practice nights, or hearing a band ringing when you are out and about. especially of 10- or 12-bell ringing when the music is present in its richest form. Like any musical genre, your ear may need training to disentangle the beauty from the sounds. Simulators do this job very well.
Matthew Sorell writes: You might also like to look at Virtual Belfry (http://belfryware.com/) which I use at the Adelaide Ringing Centre to demonstrate a wide range of bell characteristics, especially mechanics – it has lots of other great features too, complementing Abel on our dumbbells. We supply licensed copies of Abel to our ringers, and recommend either Mobel or Methodology. Currently we are experimenting with very low cost (AUD100 = GBP60 and under) android tablets as standard tower resources which can be borrowed by members without access to other computer/tablet/smartphone options.
Gary Lauderdale writes: I like and use ringbell – it’s very good and allows you to ring using mouse clicks for each pull. my current copy allows you to ring on five to eight bells from minor to major.
Rosalind Martin writes There is a huge library of methods, so it can take a bit of learning to get going with it, but it is worth the effort. The printable blue line diagrams are really clear.
If you visit the Ringbell website you will find there are lots of free resources – more information here when it is availble!
Strictly speaking not a simulator, but well worth a mention here if you are keen to learn new methods. It will create a pdf or postscript file of your chosen method, and when you print it, you have a full A4, very clear to read, version of that method. Use on Windows or Mac, with a printer connected, or on hardware such as kindle just so you have a nice offline version of the method.
JBlueLineAE Free for 30 days then £12
Doug Davis (writing on Facebook) says:
Just managed to get JBlueLineAE installed on a Kindle Fire. You need to use the web browser to go to the below website, download the .apk file to your device and then install it manually. I used the FileManager app to do this.http://www.stmarkschelt.co.uk/JBlueLine/Android/install.php. Only thing to bear in mind is that this is a paid-for app, so after 30 days you’ll need to cough up £12 to carry on using it.
RM Oct 2013