[r-t] Naming methods & compositional devices

Richard Smith richard at ex-parrot.com
Fri Aug 1 23:36:35 UTC 2008

Why do methods have names?  Isn't it just to make 
communication easier, so that the tower captain or conductor 
can say "let's ring Cambridge" instead of "let's ring the 
place notation x3x4x25x36x4x5x6x7x6x5x4x36x25x4x3x2 
repeatedly until it comes round", followed by the inevitable 
requests to have bits of it repeated or explained.  Humans 
apply labels to things, and if we didn't already have names 
for methods, they would be quickly invented.

So do we need some central way of tracking names?  Yes, I 
fear we do.  (Though whether it needs to be in the current 
form is another matter.)  If I visit a tower in America or 
Australia and am asked to ring some Cambridge, I want to be 
sure that what they are referring to is the same thing that 
I call Cambridge.

But if I'm asked to ring Cambridge, it might turn out what 
we don't just just ring a plain course.  Perhaps we ring a 
half-course or a touch.  In these cases, what's being rung 
is still unquestionably Cambridge, despite not being a round 
block formed solely from (plain) leads of the method.  So if 
Cambridge is a method, and touch of Cambridge with bobs is 
still only Cambridge, then the bobs must be part of the 
method, mustn't they?  Is just pedantic wordplay?  Perhaps.

However, if I go to a distant tower and ring a touch of 
Cambridge during which the conductor shouts 'Bob', how do I 
know what to do?  It's because I know that a 4ths place bob, 
made at the lead-end is the standard bob.  If for some 
reason the conductor wants to use a 6ths place bob, I would 
expect to be warned about it.

Once we accept that methods have their own standard bobs and 
singles, and that these vary from method to method, it seems 
increasingly hard to buy into the Central Council's view 
that calls are not part of the method.  Perhaps a better 
model is that the name Cambridge refers to a family of 
touches certainly including the plain course and anything 
with standard lead end calls.  (By 'touch', I simply mean a 
sequence of rows: I'm not implying anything further.)

Clearly there are some some touches that are obviously 
Cambridge, and others that equally obviously are not.  And 
there's probably a sizeable grey area in between.  At 
present, the Central Council permits most of this grey area, 
and a large area beyond it, to be described as Cambridge by 
permitting arbitrarily many different calls in different 
parts of the lead.  But simultaneously, some touches that 
are obviously just Cambridge are not permitted to be 
described as Cambridge.

As an example, John Camp mentioned peals of Cambridge Max 
that finished with a 1T lead-head to allow a tenors-together 
bobs-only 5040 instead of a 5280.  I imagine that most 
people would agree that this is just Cambridge, and not 
spliced Cambridge and Primrose.  But not the Central 
Council: they don't allow that to be described as just 

So what is the answer?  Do we allow people to ring things 
that differ arbitrarily from our everyday idea of Cambridge, 
yet still call them Cambridge?  Or should we try to 
prescribe what is meant by Cambridge and risk excluding 
things that really ought to be permitted?

It might surprise people here that I actually favour the 
latter -- but hopefully in such a way that the prescriptive 
approach can actually become a descriptive one.  First, 
though, I should clarify that I don't want a prescriptive 
approach to what can be rung (in a peal or otherwise): just 
to what can be rung under a given name.

Let's start off with a rule (by which I mean something much 
looser than a Decision) that Cambridge means the obvious 
piece of place notation repeated until it comes round.  Now 
that's not a very good definition -- it gives you precisely 
one touch, the whole plain course.  No good for a peal 
(unless you happen to have 36 bells).  So we broaden the 
definition: we change the rule to say that 4ths place bobs 
are permitted at the lead-end.  That pretty much reflects 
the de facto situation until the 1960s.

But since then, people have used other compositional devices 
to achieve different effects.  These days, peals of Maximus 
almost always have either a 1234 single, a 18 big bob at 
before, or perhaps a 1T (plain hunt) lead end so that they 
can come round in the middle of the tenth course instead of 
ringing ten whole courses.  1234 singles are common on other 
stages too.  I expect half-lead calls (probably 58 bobs and 
5678 singles) have been used too, though I am not certain. 
And if you look hard enough you'll probably find a few other 
oddities.  So, perhaps we could augment our definition of 
Cambridge to permit these specific types of calls as and 
when we want to ring them.

I said earlier that by 'rule', I meant something much looser 
than a Central Council Decision.  Clearly this sort of 
system wouldn't work if we had to change a Decision each 
time we wanted to ring something slightly innovative.  Half 
the peal band would have died of old age before it had been 
legalised, if indeed it ever was!  Clearly this isn't the 
right approach!

The Central Council already has to cope with accepting and 
cataloguing significant numbers of new methods.  So they 
clearly are capable of dealing efficiently with new things. 
Perhaps we should adopt the same approach to calls?  If you 
want to ring a method with some new compositional device, 
all you do is notify the Central Council (generally by means 
of a peal footnote in the Ringing World explaining what it 
is and introducing any necessary terminology) and it is 
automatically permitted.

For example, I might produce a composition where, instead of 
using calls, I start again from the beginning of the lead. 
That would be absolutely fine, and if I wanted to, I could 
describe it as a peal of that one method.  All that would be 
needed would be footnote explaining that the composition 
included 'restarts' such that (say) the last two changes of 
the lead were omitted and a new begun immediately.

The Central Council's job is then simply to catalogue and 
analyse the ways that people ring things.  With such a 
system in force, the methods collections would additionally 
contain a list of compositional devices used with that 
method.  For most methods, this would probably just be a 14 
bob, and perhaps a 1234 single, and so the method would be 
annotated with something like 'b=14, s=1234'.  But for some 
commonly rung methods you could end up with quite a long 
list, e.g.

   b=14; s=1234; big bob=18; plain hunt=1T; non-standard
   bobs: 10, 3T; half-lead bob: 9T.

Perhaps sometimes the device isn't just a straightforward 
call that can be expressed using a fragment of place- 
notation.  Fine!  Write a sentence to describe it.  (And if 
we can produce a generic way of describing things in a 
computer-readable fashion, excellent!  But the absense of 
one shouldn't be grounds for dismissing that whole style of 

Initially, the standard bob ('b' in the summary above) is 
whatever was first intended when a conductor shouted 'Bob'. 
Over time, tastes change, and once it becomes obvious that 
most peals are no longer using that particular bob, the 
Central Council can change what it records as the standard 
bob.  (And I would anticipate the relevant committee coming 
up with some algorithm for determining whether this has 
occured so as to avoid a protracted discussion each time.)

After a few methods have been listed, it'll rapidly become 
clear that there are some obvious trends.  b=14, s=1234 for 
2nds place single-hunt methods is an obvious one.  And this 
is something that the relevant committee of the Central 
Council should be spotting and making up general rules to 
describe.  Perhaps there will be a method that genuinely 
doesn't fit this pattern (and I don't just mean a method 
that has been rung precisely once and on which occasion 6ths 
place bobs were used).  No problem: "unless otherwise noted 
in the methods collection, the standard bob for a seconds 
place single-hunt method is 14, and the standard single is 

But, broadly, the Central Council should not be saying what 
you can or cannot do.  Nor should it usually be trying to 
invent and impose its own new naming conventions. 
Generally, what it should be doing is waiting for 
conventions to emerge and then documenting them.  And it 
should be prepared to accept that sometimes, exceptions will 
exist for historical rather than logical reasons.  So be it.

So could something like this actually work?  I believe it 
could.  Rules are often broken for the same reason that 
mountains are climbed: because they're there.  If you take 
away a lot of the rules, you also take away a lot of the 
incentive for breaking them.  Sure, from time to time 
someone will decide that it's clever to ring a peal of 
Bristol and call it Cambridge.  But you simply relegate this 
to a footnote and say, well yes, it once happened.  It's not 
going to be common.

I'm not advocating that the complete absense of Decisions on 
methods and calls, however.  I've already suggested that 
decisions of standard calls are likely to evolve.  And I'm 
quite happy retaining the essence, if not the details, of 
the existing decisions on method classification.  (Though I 
would remove all of the classes of methods that are not 
commonly rung: Differentials, Differential Hunters, Hybrids 
and Alliance methods that are not just Treble Dodging 
methods with dodges omitted.  You could still ring them and 
use these classes in their names, but you'd no longer be 
required to.)

I might consider adding a decision saying that if a touch 
could be described as one method with standard calls, you 
couldn't use it to name another method.  So you can't ring 
Middleton's Cambridge and name it something else with silly 
calls.  But equally, perhaps this should only be introduced 
if it becomes necessary: that's more in the spirit of what 
I'm suggesting.

Clearly this is nowhere near a proper proposal: it's little 
more than a vague outline.  But the fundamental idea is that 
you have minimal rules and live in a state of organised 
anarchy.  On the one hand, ringers are constantly 
introducing new rules (in the form of new styles of 
composition) in a kind of nomic; and on the other hand, the 
Central Council's committees are imposing limited order on 
those things that are frequently rung.

There are lots of other things I haven't touched on: 
multi-method peals, Dixons, magic-block peals, method 
extension, and so on.  But I would advocate a similar 
approach to each of these: start with an attitude of 
'anything goes', and then apply minimal rules as and where 

So, if anyone's still reading this far down, how does this 
sound?  A good idea?  Or a naïve anarcho-syndicalistic 


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