The learning process
Most change ringing is performed on tower bells, as described in the Change Ringing section of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers' website. The first stage for a beginner is to learn how to handle the bell safely and with sufficient control to be able to adjust its speed and to start and stop it at will. An average person with a good tutor should be able to attain this level in a dozen or so individual 30-minute lessons, especially if these can be scheduled as longer sessions and / or several times a week.
See a bell being rung 'up' here and being rung in slow motion here. Details of gripping the rope are shown here. Some find that the tying of the rope after you have finished ringing is one of the earliest difficulties! It is demonstrated here.
Ringing with others
Next you will need to learn how to ring with others, at a pace established by the whole team. This will often begin by learning to follow another ringer at a steady interval. If a simulator is available, you can learn to fit in with the simulated sounds of the other bells, thus developing valuable listening skills. You will also start to join in with other ringers during the weekly practice night at your tower, and the first milestone will be to ring "rounds" (ringing the bells down the scale repetitively - the normal starting and finishing routine for all change ringing) unassisted.
After learning how to 'lead', that is to ring your bell to sound first in the change, the next stage is usually to learn to ring "call changes", in which the conductor calls different pairs of bells to exchange places for the next sequence. Although many ringers regard call-change ringing as a step in their progress to method ringing, accurately struck call changes are perfectly acceptable for service and wedding ringing, and are preferable by far to poorly-struck method ringing. To many ringers in Devon and Cornwall, call changes are an end in themselves and are performed with great proficiency honed by frequent striking competitions.
By this stage, it will become apparent that there are disparities in the timing at which different bells sound or strike relative to the rope position and this article on Knowing Your Instrument may be useful.
Method ringing requires each ringer to memorise and practise patterns of successive changes in sequence, without the need for the conductor to call individual changes. Methods vary enormously in complexity, providing additional challenges for ringers of all levels of proficiency. Usually you will start to learn and practise simple methods together with call changes during the weekly practice evening at your home tower. In addition you may be able to attend suitable day or half-day courses run by this Guild, perhaps at a Ringing Centre, or even weekend courses run on a national basis.
Change ringing on handbells
Some ringers also or only ring changes on handbells, and this is especially popular outside the United Kingdom where tower bells are few and far between. It is customary for handbell change ringers to ring one bell in each hand, providing an additional level of mental challenge. However, the physical aspects of handbell ringing are straightforward, and there is no need for introductory handling lessons. Because of their portability, handbells can be rung almost anywhere, and because each ringer handles two bells, as few as three ringers can ring quite complex methods.
Bellringing has a large number of phrases and words that are very obscure to those not in the know. Click here for a 800 words/phrases jargon buster!