22nd May 2016

Learning Methods

by Michael J. de C. Henshaw (2000, CC)

I approached the task of reviewing a book by the VP of the Central Council with some trepidation. My copy arrived just before I departed for a coach holiday to Austria and the famous Passion Play at Oberammergau in Southern Germany. I was thus able to spend many miles reading it at my leisure – two 12 hour days on the coach each way.

Learning Methods is aimed at those who, having mastered Plain Bob, are moving on to learning new methods. The examplar method used is Hereward Bob, selected because it is likely to be unfamiliar to the reader – indeed I don’t think I have ever rung it myself! This is a successful approach as it enables the student to start from basic principles with a method they have not seen before and so have no preconceptions about. I suspect we may soon start to see Hereward rung rather more often as readers of the book will want to try it out! Perhaps future readers will not view it as an unfamiliar method?

The introduction is written in a very encouraging and supportive tone, acknowledging that the reader will not initially be able to take in and apply all that is offered. However it must be said that this is not a book for the faint hearted. It is a technical work, which some learners may find daunting. I think it is most likely to appeal to the adult learner who wishes to make serious progress and who may not have tutors who can explain the finer details. It would be a great shame if it were only read by learners though, as there are undoubtedly many ringers who ring by the blue line alone and who would greatly benefit from extending their skills at learning and ringing methods. It is pointed out, quite rightly, that method learning is ultimately a very individual matter and that each person will find the combination of approaches that works for them.

The book considers the use of the blue line, named pieces of work, place bells, grids, passing the treble course/after bells, coursing orders, and other signposts. An index and a glossary of terms would have been useful. Technical terms are however well covered in footnotes to the text and there is a handy bibliography of other publications. Two appendices are included. The first is an invaluable description of those methods referenced in the main text together with specific notes on learning them. Applying what one has been taught can be difficult and these examples will prove most helpful to the student. Appendix B offers notes on the structure of methods and the definition of a ‘regular’ method for those who wish to explore theory in a little more detail.

The reader is encouraged first to examine and break down the blue line of Hereward Bob and then to consider the use of place bells. I did wonder why ‘passing the treble’ is not dealt with until much later (Section 5.1), as most learners are encouraged to use this method when ringing Plain Bob and it would thus be a familiar tool. The section on named pieces of work is very useful indeed. It is a very logical way of explaining how it is that advanced ringers can learn what seems like an impossible amount of work. This approach can also be used to show learners how they are progressing; they may be surprised at how many ‘building blocks’ they have already learned. On this subject I think there is a missed opportunity. This book looks exclusively at even bell methods. Many Plain bob ringers will have learned Grandsire and maybe even Stedman by the time they are going on to learn Treble Bob methods and so at this stage will not be worried by work being in 4-5 instead of 3-4. There are a lot of blocks of work that can be learned within the relatively simple framework of Doubles variations (replacing double dodges in 1-2 or 4-5 for example). There does not seem to be a current publication dealing with this in a building block way.

My review copy of the book was sent by email and has several errors, which I trust will not be present in the final printed version. In some diagrams the blue line ‘overlay’ is misaligned and so does not sit correctly over the numbers. More seriously, figure 12 in section 4.5 gives the Plain Bob lead ends accompanying an explanation of their relationship to place bell orders. The final lead end in figure 12 is incorrect – the numbers 2 & 6 have been transposed.

Overall, this is an excellent book, which complements the others on the market by offering a serious technical reference source. I would wholeheartedly recommend it not only to its intended audience, but also to all tower captains. I do not think that younger ringers will find the book easily accessible, but it will be a superb teaching aid for their tutors. The rest of the band might be encouraged to read a tower copy too. No ringer should ever believe they have no more to learn; the vast majority of ringers would learn something from this book!

Secretary, Northern Branch, Lincoln D. G.

Published in The Ringing World September 1, 2000 p859

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