Breaking the Code


Mike Rigby
ART Teacher and Tower Captain at Lighthorne, Warks

To read an extended report on this Learning Tip
Breaking the Code - place notation (extended version)

"Thing" number 20 in "50 Ringing Things" is “Write out a method using place notation”. Debbie Phipps, a LtR Level 5 Ringer at Lychett Matravers, Dorset, told us that she had to get help with this one, but discovered that it was not quite as mysterious as she first thought. So, with her input and help, we decided to share more information about place notation.

Place Notation is a compact way to represent a method without writing out all the lines or describing it in diagram form. You can use it to learn a method, but more often it is used to communicate a method to others by text or for a computer program.

The essence of change ringing is that the bells continually change place; they rarely stay in the same place.So noting where places are made, and assuming that all other bells change place, results in a compact notation. The ‘rules’ of change ringing let assumptions be made that allow even more compactness to be used than we’re going to explain here, but this is enough to give you the idea.

Let’s start by looking at where places are made in Plain Hunt, both Doubles (PH5) and Minor (PH6). Here are the first three rows of each, with an indication of the changes made between rows:


Suppose we write these two changes of PH5 as ‘5.1’, where the numbers represent the places made and the dot just separates the changes.For PH6 we could write ‘X.16’, where the ‘X’ means ‘all change’ or ‘no places’ and we see that 1st and 6th place are made in the same change (there is no dot between).This is the basis of place notation. The main thing we need to add to this is the convention that we write down a complete ‘lead’ of any method: from when the treble leaves the lead, to when it leads again at backstroke.

Let’s work through a sample method. We’ve chosen Little Bob Minor as it’s short: the lead is only eight blows. Here’s the blue line for each of the place bells and the grid with the places made written beside it:


It should now be fairly clear that X.16.X.14.X.16.X.12 is the place notation for this.

There is no single convention for place notation; other symbols are sometimes used, and use can be made of symmetry in a method. Robert Wallis’s BLUELINE site at will give you more (it’s also the source of the diagrams reproduced above), but now – try one for yourself!