Reading Touches

Touches can be written out in many different ways, which can be confusing. So here we look at some of the common formats and what they mean.

My first port of call for quarter peal compositions is usually Don Morrison's website at

We will start at the beginning, by looking at the Plain Bob Doubles page. Note that it is assumed that you know the usual 120s and other short touches, so this page only has longer multi-extent callings. If you want to see some shorter touches, try here.

So, here's the first example from the page:

The first line means that the full touch is 360 changes long, but the brackets indicate that it can also give other, shorter lengths, usually with minor adjustments, but in this case some of the shorter lengths come about just by finishing the touch earlier. (Being a multi-extent touch means that each change comes up more than once (in this case three times each), so rounds must come up during the touch).

The next line is the composer, John Goldthorpe.

And so to the touch itself. Each line corresponds to one lead of the method and the treble isn't shown, as it will always be leading.

Here is a plain course of Plain Bob Doubles, from Comblib:

It is split into leads; you can see that the first row in each column is the same as the end of the column before. So the plain course starts from rounds, then the successive lead ends are 13524, 15432, 14253 and back to rounds, 12345. As we said, the treble is omitted, so this plain course would be written:

The calls only affect the final change of the lead, so we've not lost any information is merely writing out the lead ends. Each line of the composition therefore corresponds to 10 rows of the method. The first line is the starting rounds, then we have 4 more lines before we get back to rounds, so the composition is a total of 40 rows in length.

Back to John Goldthorpe's composition. The first line after rounds isn't 3524, as one would expect in the plain course. This is because there was a Bob called, which is indicated by the hyphen at the end of the line. This brings up the lead end (1)2354 instead.

The next three lines in the composition are just plain leads, i.e. without any calls being made, before we get to another Bob at the fifth lead end. I'm not intending to look much at how to call or ring these touches, just on how to understand the nomenclature; however, I will just note here that the 4th is unaffected at 4 blows behind at both the first two calls.

Going on, the third Bob comes a bit sooner than it would in the normal 120; there's only one plain lead before the next Bob. Then we have what could be written P P B P P; two plain leads, a Bob and two more plain leads. This brings up the lead end (1)4235. This isn't rounds, so we haven't finished yet. This is called the part end, the end of the section which needs to then be repeated. The instruction says "Repeat twice". Note that this means we ring the part three times in all.

This should bring up rounds. Each part was 12 leads long, i.e. 120 changes. Ringing this three times gives a total of 360 changes - always reassuring to match the length given in the title!

The next touch on the page is much the same, but the hyphens indicating the leads with Bobs are put at the start each row.

But in the next touch we have another space-saving device. Here only the lead ends with Bobs are shown (again by a hyphen). The numbers at the right shown that the first Bob is at the 2nd lead end, then the next one is 4 leads after that, then another 4 leads later, before the final one of the part 2 leads later. It's easy to see how many leads are in each part as we add together 2, 4, 4 and 2, to give 12 - i.e. 120 changes.

If we wrote out all the lead ends, as was done in the first two touches, we would get:

Note also that the phrase "three part" is used, which is less ambiguous than "repeat twice". That is, the part is rung three times in total, giving 3 x 120, whcih is 360 changes.

The last touch on the page is similar, but with a minor pitfall to catch the unwary. Having said we only show the Bobbed leads, note that the final line of the touch doesn't have a hyphen before it; this is a single Plain lead (indicated by the "1" after it). It would be very annoying after 479 changes to call an extra Bob and have the touch not come round!

We turn now to Grandsire. It's nice that they do have some 120s and shorter touches here. But I should warn you that some of the presentation is inconsistent with the Plain Bob page...

As a case in point, here's the usual 120:

Having established that we (mostly) only show the Bobbed leads, this takes that one step further, by leaving out the hyphens, as we know they are (mostly) Bobs.

This touch also has Singles, shown (unsurprisingly) as "s".

We can see that each part has 6 leads (2+2+2), then the composition is a 2-part, so it has to be rung twice, giving a total of 12 leads, or 120 rows.

If it were written out with a P for a plain lead, a B for a lead with a Bob and S for a lead with a Single, each part would be P B P B P S.

We still get the pitfall of a touch that finishes with a plain lead:

Now that we've taken a Bob as the default, we can't just leave a blank at the start of the line, so a "p" is used. So this touch has a Single and two Bobs in each part, then there's one plain lead at the end of the part. The part could be written S P B P B P. (This is again the normal 120, with the 3rd as the observation bell, and with the Single at the start of each part, rather than at the end, as it was in the first Grandsire example.)

Here's a touch that I like very much and have called in lots of quarter peals. It's good as it has fewer calls than most touches of Grandsire.

Hopefully the calling of each part makes sense; it could be written P P S P P S P P B P P B. Each part is 120 rows long, so the total length is 6 x 120 = 720.

But look at the instructions in the note at the end. It says you have to call a Single instead of a Bob at two points, at the halfway point and at the end, i.e. the last call of parts 3 and 6 should be changed.

Next we'll have a look at the Stedman page, which is different again.

The first touch on the page is a 1440 by Peter Ellis:

In this style of presentation, which is also used widely on higher numbers of bells, each line normally represents a course of the method. The row given is the course end; the row at the end of that course. A course of a method is the same length as a plain course, but may contain Bobs or Singles. In Stedman a plain course contains 10 sections of 6 rows, i.e. 60 rows. So each course here is 60 rows in length. The numbers at the heads of the columns are the calling positions, the number of the six (the sections of 6 rows) in which the call is made. So the first call in the touch is in the second six, then there is one in the fifth six. There is never a call at the 3rd six of a course, so that calling position is not shown, for brevity and clarity.

Next we get another space-saving device. The 6th six is marked "ss"; i.e. it has 2 Singles called. Of course you can't call two Singles at the same time; they are actually at the same position in two successive courses. This should be familiar from the standard 120 of Stedman, where you call two Singles, to affect the same pair of bells. These two Singles are at the same place in each course, as you have to wait until that pair of bells gets back to the back again, to call the second Single.

The first three lines of the composition could be written out like this. Once you've called the second of each pair of calls, you carry on with the rest of the line - don't forget those calls at 8, but only after calling both of the calls at 6. I've added the other course end rows (like 24135) that weren't shown in the original version, but you can see the 23145 as the second course end, matching the first line of the original composition.

In fact, every line of the original composition includes a pair of calls like this, so every line is actually two courses long, or 120 rows. There are 12 lines in the composition, so you do get 12 x 120 = 1440 rows.

There are two differences in my next example, another 1440, this time by Robert Peers.

Firstly, you'll notice that the calling positions go up to 19, so there are clearly more than 10 sixes represented in each line of the composition. I think we're supposed to assume that each line will be a whole number of courses, so each line must be 20 sixes in length. That would work for the total length given; 20 sixes is 120 rows, then, again, 12 x 120 = 1440.

The other oddity is that it doesn't appear to start and finish in rounds! The 23145 row is the six end, which is the 3rd row of the course. Again, this usage is more common on Stedman on higher numbers, where the calls come in a different position.

However, you can see that the treble appears at the same place in each of the rows given, which suggests that it might be a good bell to call it from. It's not actually unaffected - the calls as 2 and 12 make it do anti-cats-ears and cats-ears in each pairs of courses. Again, note that this is like a normal 120; 2 and 12 are 10 sixes apart, so treble will be back at the back again (and with the same bell too, as the call at 7 doesn't affect either of them).

Another new bit of notation is shown in this 240 by Philip Saddleton:

Hopefully most of this will look familiar. It uses the six-end rows that we just saw above, rather then starting and ending at rounds (which would be the 4th row of a six). And it's gone back to the simpler style of a line for each six, with the Singles shown by "s" at the start of the line. There is no call at the sixes without an "s". So we can see that the first call is at the end of the 4th six.

But the new feature is the use of blocks. The first four sixes have been bracketed together and labelled "A". Then the next line says "2A". This means two more occurences of the A block.

Similarly, the B block is defined the first time it appears in the composition. It is 6 sixes in length, three of which have Singles called. And it is then rung twice more.

This composition could be written:


Well, I had intended to look at touches on more than 5 bells, but you've probably had enough by now! Please remind me if the next instalment doesn't appear. And, as ever, please do ask if you have any questions, either about what I've written so far, or any other aspect.