- How to Play the Bowl
Singing bowls (also known as 'Himalayan bowls' or 'rin gongs' in Japan) are a type of bell, specifically classified as a standing bell. Rather than hanging inverted or attached to a handle, standing bells sit with the bottom surface resting. The sides and rim of singing bowls vibrate to produce sound. Singing bowls were traditionally used throughout Asia as part of Buddhist meditation practice. Today they are used worldwide for meditation, relaxation, healthcare, personal well-being and religious practice.
Singing bowls were historically made in Tibet, Nepal, India, Bhutan, China, Japan and Korea. Today they are made in Nepal, India, Japan and Korea. The best known type are from the Himalayan region and are often called "Tibetan singing bowls."
Modern etched bowl with "Om Mani Peme Hung" on the exterior and double vajra on the bottom.
Singing bowls are played by the friction of rubbing a wooden, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim of the bowl to produce overtones and a continuous 'singing' sound. Genuine antique singing bowls produce a complex chord of harmonic overtones. Singing bowls may also be played by striking with a soft mallet to produce a warm bell tone.
Ours are made in Tibet and Nepal, come in three sizes, and include a specially designed wooden mallet for playing. Click on the links below to hear the sounds you can achieve with some practice and serenity.
Note: Large size ships from our Hong Kong store.
To Play the bowl with The Wooden Mallet (or Pudja) , place your bowl on your non-dominate open palm, keep your hand as open and flat as possible to let the bowl resonate at it's full potential. Hold the wooden mallet in your dominate hand, Keeping your grip toward the center of the mallet so you have good leverage. It's not important how you hold the mallet, as long you have it up and at a slight angle, and it's comfortable enough to press firmly on the bowl. ( I like to hold my mallet like a pencil.) Now rub the mallet on the outer part of the rim, in a circular motion making sure you keep consistent contact with the bowl. As the bowl begins to sing try and press a little harder and play a little slower each time around, as to trap the sound so it doesn't chatter. The key is to play the bowl slow with pressure, try not to speed up. When it plays at a comfortable tone release the mallet quickly and away from your body. Here's A Little Trick: After Your bowl has begun to sing, face your bowl, and tilting your head slightly, and close enough to kiss it, open and close your mouth as if to say “Wow”. The sound waves will resonate in your mouth and your mouth will become a sound chamber. The “Wah-Wah” sound is fun to do and you can get a different sound effect from the bowl. Striking The Bowl: Holding your bowl again in your non-dominate open palmed hand. Strike the bowl either with a striker or the heel of your dominate hand, get close to the bowl and you'll hear yet another tone. Usually a bit deeper and very “Ohm” like sound. Which gives most people a very relaxing sensation.
To Play The Bell: Hold stem of the bell in your non-dominate hand firmly. Holding your wooden mallet in the opposite hand, pointed towards the ceiling, rub the outside edge of the bottom rim of the bell in a circular motion with consistant pressure until it resonates at a nice volume. (The dorje does not make any sound.)
Q. I noticed that my bowl sounds a little different at home (San Francisco) that it does on your website... the tone it plays here seems to be a tiny bit lower than on the sample. Why is this?
A. Great question! Sound waves are made of compressed air - in this case, the vibrating bowl "pushes" the air into little waves which travel outwards at a certain speed. The speed that a soundwave travels is directly related to its tone; higher tones travel faster than lower tones.
So, anything that affects the speed of a soundwave is going to affect its tone.... and there are two main things that do this. These are air temperature , and air pressure . Sound travels slower in cold air than in hot air, meaning that a bowl will play slightly lower tones on a winter night than on a summer afternoon. Sound also travels slower when the air pressure is greater, meaning that a bowl will play slightly lower tones at sea level (where the air is denser and air pressure is higher), than it will where the air is thinner -- say, at the top of a mountain, or in an air balloon (not that we necessarily expect you will be playing your bowl in an air balloon!).
In the case of your bowl, you have noticed that it seems to play a fraction lower at your home that the recording on the website. That is because you are playing it at sealevel, whereas Melanie recorded the bowl at an altitude of ______ higher than you .
Q. I thought you said that tone depended on TWO qualities -- what about the effects of air temperature?
A. Another great question. Actually, in the grand scheme of things, temperature is a more important factor affecting tone that air pressure. (For those mathematically-minded, this is because tone is linearly related to temperature, but related only to the square root of the air pressure). So you are likely to notice more change in tone playing inside in a warm room versus playing outside on a very cold day than you are in altitude change.
In the case above, I'm imagining that the bowl is being played inside at pretty much the same temperature, and so here the difference in air pressure (caused by the altitude difference) is the only thing that you will really notice affecting the tone. Since you live where there is higher air pressure, you can expect that the same bowl will sound lower at your house than it did on the recording.
Q. Can you explain WHY the tone is changed this way by air temperature and air pressure?
A. I can give you some cool-looking physics equations, but let me try and give you an intuitive way to think of it. In the case of air pressure, we have a bunch of air sitting around the bowl, waiting to be "vibrated" into soundwaves. Each little air molecule has some mass, which means that it takes some energy to get it moving. The more air molecules there are sitting around the bowl, the more energy it takes to push them all into action. We call this "inertia" -- it's like a "heaviness" that has to be overcome before something will start to move when you push it. Just think of it like this -- it takes a lot more energy to drag Uncle Larry off the couch than it does your six-year-old nephew. So the more air sitting there, the more inertia. This means that the soundwave gets going a little slower... and, presto! You have a lower tone.
Air temperature changes the amount of energy the air molecules already have. When you heat up air, each molecule gets its own little "care package" of energy, which gives it some zoom! This little energy boost (think of it as Red Bull for molecules) overcomes a lot (maybe all) of the inertia we mentioned before... so when it comes time for the air molecules to "vibrate" into waves they do it extra quickly. The waves go racing out faster, boosted by the extra energy in the air. Once again, presto! You have a higher tone.