Within the two seconds it takes a bell to rotate, the tones are slightly offset so that each rings before any bell sounds twice.
So instead of playing melodies, church bells are rung in rows—patterns that describe the order of bells. The pattern of highest to lowest in a six-bell tower is described as 123456 and is known as rounds.
Simply ringing rounds over and over would quickly get monotonous, but because the weight of human ringers can only slightly slow or accelerate the bells, it is possible to change a bell’s ringing order by only one position from row to row.
Following these rules, Diagram 1 shows the row pattern known as Plain Hunt or Original in which the maximum of three bell “switches” is followed by two switches, taking twelve rows to return to rounds. There are many methods that allow starting and ending at rounds without repeating a pattern, including “Plain Bob Minor".
Since bell ringers are not permitted visual aides like this one, they instead memorize the path of the lines (as shown) that define the place of their bell in each pattern.
A full peal is when every permutation is rung without repeating a row (starting and ending at rounds). Thus, at two seconds per row, it takes about half an hour to play a full peal in a six-bell tower (720 permutations). To play this same full peal on eight bells would take just over 22 hours (40,320 permutations).
Join me every Monday morning for more grandtastic goodies from The Geeks' Guide to World Domination. Or if you like your geekery delivered fresh, consider subscribing to my rss feed or joining my Facebook Fan Page.