Traditional Eastern Orthodox Chant Documentation Project
Bell-Ringing: Questions and Answers

Q: How do I start learning how to ring bells?

A: In my fledgling days of learning to ring bells, I had no teacher. I did what you suggested: listened to old tapes, records, anything I could get my hands on! In theory, you should be able to listen to bells being rung, and then with some skill reproduce that ring. This does NOT usually work! I always try to imagine the way a ringer is pulling, plucking, or pedaling the ropes, but when I see the peal actually being done, I just can only say: HUH! Not what I thought I would see.

In other words, especially in the Slavic style of bell ringing, or even Greek (or Georgian, Serbian, etc.), the sound or melodic rhythm (I wouldn't call it just a melody) that is produced has not as much direct relation to the actual bell ringing as you would think. Of course, there has to be some relation which is more or less discernible, depending on the kind of ring. (Of course, this whole time I am completely referring to some kind of Zvon; most of the other peals like a Perebor, Blagovest, etc. are pretty much unskilled.)

Another factor in trying to discern and copy these peals is what we call in music or bell language an "overtone." Bells, unlike other musical instruments, create multiple "tones" on one bell, and of course, the bigger the bell, the more potential for multiple tones!

Another factor is that many Zvons have a very quick chime on the upper bells, and sometimes the rhythm doesn't have any relation to the rest of the peal! This creates much confusion to the ear, because it could be from two to
ten bells rung together almost simultaneously at an almost unbelievable rate.

At any rate, the whole point is: I love to listen to bell recordings, but it just doesn't happen that way, at least not
for me. The only remote success I have had is digitally slowing down peals on my computer, but even then the overtone really plays with your mind.

-- Job

Q: Is there a MUSICAL score somewhere for the different bell signals?

A: No, because sets of bells differ and therefore you would have to write a score for each tower. Also, and more importantly, bell ringing in the Orthodox tradition is largely an IMPROVISATIONAL art, although certain towers do have their own special traditional patterns. So go out and make music, and if you come up with something particularly good, try to remember it!

The main principle in any case is that the deepest bell sets the pulse; on top of that you can play anything that sounds good. For the set of five bells which we've sold to many of our clients, 1-2-3-4-5, of which 5 is the deepest, you could ring a pattern like this: 5-3-4-3, 5-3-4-3, 5-3-4-3, ... and noodle around on top of that with nos. 1 and 2.

But if you have a different set, you might have to come up with a different pattern, depending on how the chords resolve.

I strongly recommend that you acquire a copy of "Bells of the Chud Region" from Not only is it one of the best albums of any kind that I own, but it will give you a good idea of what (large sets of) bells in Russia sound like. Some of the ringing is that of the Pskov Caves Monastery, which is the only place the tradition remained alive through the entire Soviet Era. Not that it's different anywhere else, but it's nice to know that we do have this living link.

John Burnett, Executive Manager

Q: We've only got 3 bells at our church. How do we get the most out of our modest three-bell setup?

A: I started bell ringing on two old swinging church bells and one tinny sounding school bell! You can make anything sound presentable with practice. I recall a bishop coming to our church once and remarking on the amount of bells and the beauty of the sound! (little did he know up in the enclosed tower were 3 rickety old bells, made in the worst tradition of bell casting, and a couple of kids with ropes strung up to clappers and hammers in their hands) Anyway, it depends on how the bells are rung i.e.- swinging, clapper, close quarters, whatever, if you can get close to the bells you can use plastic concert chime mallets! (in bell circles on the east coast, this is jokingly known as the St. Vlad's style, this in an inside joke--they make one bell sound like 3 using plastic mallets and the regular clapper). The melody much relies on the method of ringing. So first decide how you can ring the bells, then worry about different peals. Simply you could have the highest bell ringing a quick chime pattern, and the lower bells alternating about 4 times the speed. You could then change the lower bell pattern for example; say 1 is the high bell, 2 med., 3 low -1 would ring a continuous quick chime, then at about 1/4 the speed 3 rest 3 rest 3 rest 323 rest 323 rest 323 rest 232 rest 232 rest 232 rest 3 rest -- and so on continue this and vary the patterns any way you wish.

John Burnett, Executive Manager

Q: Our church has ordered a set of 5 bells which will arrive just in time for Pascha. Are there prescribed rubrics for the ringing of bells on Pascha?

A: We ring our bells as follows for Easter:

Prior to the Midnight Office being read there a small blagovest of 12 peals on one bell. With a large number of bells this blagovest should use a smaller bell.

At the conclusion of the Midnight Office the blagovest for Paschal Matins begins with the main bell. This should continue until the Procession starts, however this may be too long (and cause problems with non-Orthodox neighbours). As the Procession leaves the church a festive trezvon should commence. We normally ring this trezvon at a slower pace that accompanies the movement of the Procession. The trezvon finishes when the Procession reaches the closed doors at the
front of the church.

When the church doors are opened and the Procession enters the church singing "Christ is risen" the trezvon recommences. For us this is normally the loudest trezvon of the entire year which combined with the choir (our bell tower is above the church itself) makes this moment very loud and festive. This trezvon can continue for a long
time. At other churches I have heard it continue into the Canon, although this might cause problems.

After this we do not ring the bells again because we are located in a suburban area and we do not want to push our good relations with the neighbours too far in these times of noise-restrictions and the like. However, if you were to be completely correct, then the following should also be done:

During the hours preceding the Liturgy another trezvon is rung;
At the Gospel the bells are each rung 7 times in order followed by a trezvon;
The usual blagovest is rung during the Eucharistic Canon;
Trezvon is rung at the conclusion of Liturgy. In theory this last trezvon can be continued until Vespers that evening! - although at 4 in the morning it can be the last thing on people's minds.

On Pascha it is traditional that anybody can be allowed to ring the bells between services. This may be too much for your situation, however what we have found is that prior to Vespers for, say half to a full hour, you can allow this so as to keep this tradition, whilst not causing any problems.

From: Nick "syd_reg" <nkulikov@b...>
Date: Sun Apr 4, 2004 4:56 pm