The sound of church bells, rung perhaps at the end of a wedding, is familiar to many of us.  The bells start by ringing in sequence from the highest note to the lowest, and this is repeated a number of times.  The number of bells is not fixed, but even numbers from 6 to 12 are most common, and they are tuned to a major scale.  This is called ringing rounds, and for six bells the sequence is written as 123456.

After a bit the sequence might be changed, by swapping adjacent pairs of bells.  This can be done one pair at a time when instructed by a conductor.  This is called ‘call changes’, and on six bells three swaps (132456, 132546, 135246) can bring up a familiar sounding sequence known as ‘Queens’ with the odd-numbered bells in order followed by the even-numbered bells.

Much more interesting and challenging for the ringers is to change the sequence every time the bells ring, in accordance with a predetermined pattern.  The simplest patterns are easy to learn,  but there are increasingly complex ones for those who want to be continually challenged.  This is what is generally called change-ringing, and the simplest pattern of changes on 6 bells is as follows:

 

123456

214365

241635

426153

462513

645231

654321

563412

536142

351624

315264

132546

123456

 

If you study the pattern you will see that each bell moves one place at a time through the order until it becomes the first or last bell.  It then changes direction and continues until after 12 changes all the bells are back in their starting position (rounds).  Rounds is always rung several times before starting the changes and at the end.  Drawing a line through the path of one or more of the bells makes the pattern easier to memorise.

To change places with another bell your bell has to change speed to ring earlier or later.  Sufficient control of the speed is only possible because the bells swing through a full circle and can be held momentarily near the point of balance at either end of the swing.  The bell can be stopped and left in a safe position just past the balance point using a device known as a stay and slider.  The bell is controlled by a rope attached to a large wheel on the axis of the bell, with the ringer standing below the bell in the ringing chamber.

No particular strength is required, but the skills take some time to learn, and as with all such activities some learn faster than others.  You can find more information on the website of the Ely Diocesan Association.