At its 1978 meeting, the Central Council asked the Peal Compositions Committee to consider the standardisation of notation for compositions. The committee has now met to discuss this issue, and its recommendations are reported here.
The first point to be made is that many forms of notation have developed over the years and it is often a matter for subjective opinion whether any one is “better” than any other. We hold no particular brief here, but believe that any notation may be regarded as satisfactory so long as it communicates the composition simply and unambiguously to the would-be conductor. Moreover, we would stress that no system, however good, should absolve the conductor from the responsibility of checking that the calls produce the intended result.
It is not our intention to produce a comprehensive set of rules to cover every possible contingency. Nevertheless, the committee accepts the Council’s desire to standardise and recognises its own responsibility in this matter, since it has a near-monopoly of compositions appearing in the R.W. or in C.C. publications.
Generally speaking, Numbers (e.g., “3”, denoting a call at the 3rd lead end in the course) are less ambiguous than Positions (“W”, “M”, etc.) particularly where there is no fixed observation bell, and in the case of half-lead calls, Numbers are essential. On the other hand, Positions are more informative, and Numbers can be very cumbersome for methods where the observation bell is frequently affected, such as Kent or Bristol Major, or even Cambridge or London Major when there are numerous calls “Before”.
As a general rule, therefore, the Committee will use Positions as headings for compositions with a fixed observation bell, and exercise some discretion on other occasions where their use seems appropriate (viz: Bristol S.M. R.W. p.68, 1979).
Where Numbers are used, they must be strictly referenced to the previous course end, and in no way regarded as Positions in their own right. That particular misuse has arisen in peals of Stedman Triples, and also in peals of Superlative Major with half-lead calls (viz: R.W. p.976, 1978). We shall certainly use Numbers for Grandsire Caters, where previous notations have tended to be confusing.
In most instances, the standard notation causes no problems. W, M, B, H are all acceptable. In is considered less open to misinterpretation than I, similarly Out rather than O. Fifths can cause some problems, and we recommend 5ths rather than F or Fths (confusing with Fourths) or V (mixed Arabic and Roman) or 5 (bobs at the 5th lead). Similarly 4ths would denote Fourths, etc. For Stedman Triples, S, H, L, Q are generally accepted as positional calls for a designated observation bell.
Conventionally, a Bob is denoted by “” and a Single by “S”. Multi-calls in any position are indicated by the number (e.g. 3), and where Singles are involved the necessary explanation (e.g. , , S) should be given alongside, or as a footnote. Two Singles at any position are best denoted by SS.
Where the call causes the lead to be repeated (as in Kent or Bristol Major), this will be distinguished by a Figure to denote the number of such calls (i.e., “1” is preferred to “” in this instance).
We believe the use of the symbol “X” should be reserved exclusively for compound calls (e.g., In/5ths, 1/1½, etc.). Thus, whilst recognising a weight of opinion to the contrary, we advocate, in particular, that its use be dropped for the call “Before”.
The Committee believes that the above guide lines, whilst not exhaustive, nevertheless cover the majority of situations arising in present-day practice. Where anomalies, or new situations arise, we will adapt accordingly. We also welcome any constructive comments on our proposals. In the meantime, we will do our best to follow our own guide lines, but offer no guarantees!
The Ringing World, February 23, 1979, page 170