How to play singing bowls
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Why Play Singing Bowls?
Singing bowls are very enjoyable to play. The experience is both invigorating and relaxing. Take time out to play a singing bowl every day, either as part of meditation or just to enjoy a few minutes of peace. Sound is very beneficial to our our health and well being. The warm tone, gentle vibration and subtle harmonic overtones provide many subtle benefits. Give yourself this little gift every day. It is also a wonderful opportunity to share with others. You can play them in group mediation, with music, in the classroom or yoga studio. There are many uses for sound. Even if you don't have a reason, it's always a nice treat. For Buddhists, singing bowls offer a way to renew the Bodhisattva vow every day or can be used as part of your daily offerings. Think of the sound as an offering for the benefit of all living things. The following guidelines will help you learn to play your Himalayan Bowl with skill and ease.
About Mallets & Cushions
It is important to have the correct size mallet for your singing bowl. We have a wide range of mallet sizes made for our singing bowls because the size and thickness of the mallet has a big effect on the sound of the singing bowl. Each singing bowl includes a cushion and two mallets. We select the correct size and include it with each singing bowl.
Wool Wrapped Mallets are best for striking a bowl - the wool end of the mallet is for striking the bowl. The wood end can be used for playing the bowl around the rim.
Leather Wrapped Mallets are best for playing a bowl around the rim - both the leather end and the wood end can be used for playing around the rim.
Singing Bowl Beaters are for striking large sized singing bowls.
Cushions are very useful. Our special donut cushions prevent the bowls from sliding around when you play them. Singing bowls are fragile so it is best to keep them on a cushion to prevent damage. If you are keeping the bowl on a hard surface, it is important to have a cushion so the bowl does not vibrate against the surface, which causes a harsh rattling sound.
To begin, sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor. You do not need to sit any special way. Your comfort is most important. In your mind's eye, scan through yourself and feel your different parts: feel your feet, legs, hips, spine, ribs, shoulders, arms, hands, and head. Go up and down your spine, imagining that you are like a blade of grass, growing straight but soft and movable. Notice your breathing. Allow your breath to come and go without pushing or holding.
Hold the bowl in both hands for a few moments. Feel its shape, weight and temperature. Feel the shape of your hands as you hold the bowl. Try to reduce the effort in your hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles and feet. Sit calmly and contact the bowl and the ground gently.
Before playing, try this short meditation for compassion: feel your breathing and imagine that with every breath, you fill up with the light of loving kindness. Gradually light fills you more and more, dissolving all tension, blocks, fears and limitations. The light overflows from you and fills the bowl. Imagine that light and love fills the bowl, more and more with every breath until it is overflowing. Light and love overflow from you and the singing bowl, filling your surroundings. Expand your awareness wider and wider until this compassionate love and light spread throughout the world. This is the way to benefit all living beings. Send that loving kindness out to the world as a gift. When you play the singing bowl, the sound vibration travels in this way. The vibrations travel outward from the bowl in all directions. The sound really is a gift to to the world. Your visualization and prayers can intensify this gift.
How to Play Singing Bowls
Singing bowls are bells. The best tone is produced by striking the side of a singing bowl just at the rim with a soft mallet. They can also be played around the rim to emphasize the harmonic overtones. Below are instructions for both techniques. Each Himalayan Bowl is unique, and the best playing techniques are discovered by working with an individual bowl over time.
Striking a Singing Bowl
Strike the singing bowl with a soft mallet, like our wool wrapped mallets. Our large beaters are for larger singing bowls, over 9 inches. You can also strike the bowl with bare wood to get a more percussive tone and to emphasize the higher harmonics.
Strike the bowl from the side, but at the rim. If you strike it too far down the bowl, it will not vibrate fully. If you strike it from above, it will not vibrate much at all. The harder you strike it, the louder and more powerful the tone will be. If you strike it too hard, the tone can become metallic and unpleasant. Find the middle ground where you give it a firm strike, but not too hard.
Notice that the sound and vibration can be slightly different depending on where you strike the bowl and how hard you hit it. The tone also varies with different diameter mallets and different materials. New bowls especially vary quite a lot - the tone can vary by a partial tone. The quality of the vibration also varies depending on where you hit it. One spot may have more warble than another. One spot will sound more deep, one spot will emphasize the highest harmonic. There is quite a bit of variety to be discovered, so experiment and have fun.
Every singing bowl has a "sweet spot," which is the best place to hit it. Turn the bowl in your hand until you find the sweet spot - that's the place where the vibration is most steady and smooth. The harmonic tones sound at more equal volume and the total sound is very harmonious and balanced. Many antiques don't have a pronounced sweet spot - especially the thicker ones. The whole bowl sounds equally sweet and wonderful.
As the tone fills the air, feel the vibration. Let the sound ring out and listen to how it fades. Sound travels. Imagine the sound flowing out into the world.
Playing Singing Bowls Around the Rim
Himalayan Bowls can be played around the rim with bare wood or a leather wrapped mallet. Wood emphasizes the high harmonics. Leather emphasizes the low tones. The wool mallet is for striking only. You cannot play around the rim with the wool side - only the bare wood or leather.
Hold the mallet against the rim of the bowl. Hold it firmly, but with a relaxed hand and wrist. Keep your hand low on the stick and close to the bowl. Many people hold their hand several inches above the rim of the bowl which makes it more difficult to play.
It is the pressure that makes the sound. Slowly run the mallet around the bowl with constant even pressure. If the bowl makes a rattling sound, slow down and apply more constant and even pressure.
Go slowly and listen to the sound rise. If you keep even pressure, the vibration will gradually build to a strong tone within a few seconds. The sound will continue to grow until the bowl will sing at its fullest volume. At this point, vary the speed - go slower to make the tone less intense, go faster to get it more active.
If you let up on the pressure, the singing will stop. In that case just start over, slowly building. Some bowls come to full volume in a couple of seconds, others take ten or more seconds. If you have trouble singing your bowl, see the 'tips to remember' section below and watch our video How to Play Singing Bowls.
Experiment with your grip. I prefer to hold the mallet like a pencil, with my fingers pointing downward. Some people prefer to hold the mallet with all fingers gripping it, like you would a mixing spoon or baseball bat.
Experiment with the angle of the mallet - hold the mallet straight up and down or at a slight angle.
Practice until you find the speed and pressure that allows you to sing the bowl indefinitely. Find the balance of speed, pressure, and angle where the bowl sings to its fullest, rising and falling, vibrating continuously and joyfully.
Large Singing Bowls
Large singing bowls (9 inches or larger) can be heavy to hold, so leave it sitting on the floor or on a table. If placing a bowl on a hard surface, use a cushion to prevent friction. Large bowls have a wonderful grounding quality. The deep and slow vibrations are very calming and instantly relaxing. You can also hold a large bowl flat on your hands at a level in front of you where it feels easiest for you - around the level of your heart, solar plexus, in front of your belly or resting in your lap. Experiment holding it at different levels and notice how the vibration feels. A person can lay on the floor with bowls surrounding them for a sound healing session.
The traditional way to use singing bowls in meditation is to play a large bowl to begin meditation (as a calming influence) and a small bowl to end meditation (as a signal and wake up call).
Medium Singing Bowls
Medium singing bowls (6-8 inches) offer the best balance of small size and full vibration. They are the ideal choice for an all around personal bowl. Hold a medium bowl on your fingertips, or flat on your palm. Be sure not to touch the sides of the bowl, which will dampen the sound.
Try lying down and putting the bowl on your torso. Couples love playing the bowls for each other. For professionals, large bowls are best on the floor around the client but medium and small bowls can go directly on the body.
Small Singing Bowls
Small bowls (under 6 inches) are the ultimate for portability and produce the highest pitches. Small bowls are lightweight, so be careful it doesn't fly out of your hand when you play it. Hold a very small bowl on your fingertips with the fingers spread slightly for easier balance. When singing a very small bowl, it helps to press the bowl against the mallet as you press the mallet against the bowl - as you go around the rim both hands can move.
Tips to Remember
Hold your hand close to the rim. If your hand is several inches above the bowl, it's difficult to make it sing.
It is the pressure that produces the tone - not the speed. Slow down and apply even pressure. Sometimes there is one spot where the pressure is lessened - make sure to apply pressure constantly all the way around.
If the bowl rattles, apply more even pressure. That rattling sound is the stick vibrating against the bowl.
If the tone starts but then fades quickly, there may one spot where you let up on the pressure. When the sound comes up apply more pressure and speed up slightly: catch the wave.
Some bowls sing very intensely. If the tone becomes too intense go very, very slow and apply slightly less pressure. Try a leather wrapped mallet which is more forgiving of the most powerful vibrations.
Try different sized mallets and different types of mallets. Large bowls sing with a thicker diameter. Small bowls sing with thin diameter. Leather wrapped mallets work well to bring out the low vibration. Solid plastic rod can be used to bring out the highest harmonics.
Remember it takes practice. Please watch our videos on playing instructions.