Singing bowls, especially good quality antiques, have a tremendous range of sounds available for your practice or listening pleasure. Once you master how to play singing bowls you will be able to bring out these different sounds through using different ringing implements and techniques. Different mallets, sticks and playing methods can highlight different aspects of a bowl. You can also isolate sounds even teasing out very high notes hidden under the bass of a very large bowl.
How to Make a Singing Bowl Sing
To get a feel for how to play singing bowls it is helpful to have an understanding of just how the sound is propagating. When you strike the singing bowl you set the metal into motion. That motion, generally hundreds and thousands of back and forth motions per second, moves a column of air. The continual sound you hear is a result of momentum, the motion of the metal remaining in motion. What slows down that motion and extinguishes the sound is friction. Friction comes from the singing bowl itself and we can’t do anything about that but it also comes from anything that touches the singing bowl.
While the entire bowl moves from bring struck, the sound radiates from the rim. With some larger active Tibetan singing bowls you can see the rim dance. Pressing on the rim will stop the sound cold, pressing lower on the sidewall will dampen but not extinguish the sound. The friction within the bowl between the area you are touching and the rim reduces the energy available to move the rim. The part of the singing bowl furthest from the rim, the bottom, has the least effect on the motion of the rim. Should we wish to get the most sound out of our singing bowls we want contact with the smallest amount of surface area the farthest from the rim.
Some Tips on Rim Play
The most difficult technique to master is playing the rim of with a stick or wand. First thing to keep in mind is that it is generally easier to play a bowl with wood than leather, suede and especially felt – so wood against the rim is the way to start. The best way to hold a stick is pretty much the same as you would hold a pen, thumb on one side and propped between your next two strongest fingers. This gives you the best grip and leverage. Positioning the stick perpendicular to the plane of the bowl, straight up and down is a good way to start. Changing the angle so you tilt towards the inside of the bowl can be helpful. The thing to keep in mind is that you always want the force of your hand to be directed to the center of the bowl. This way the contact between the stick and the bowl remains constant and the sound smooth. If you lose focus or contact that stick can jump off the edge of the bowl and quickly come back making a screech or rattle.
Once you get a bowl going on the rim you can play different sounds by speeding up and slowing down. You can sometimes bring out the next highest overtone by pushing harder against the rim and sharpening the angle of play. For some examples of how much range you can get out of a bowl try playing some of the Number 2 sound clips on bowls we have for sale. These are located on the details page, you have to click the singing bowl photo or the “details” link to get to where those clips are. One thing you can hear in some of these clips are isolated notes, some so far from the deep strike tone it is hard to believe it is the same singing bowl.
Some tips on how to hold your singing bowl
When I play a singing bowl in my hand I perch it on my finger tips. This gives me good control of the singing bowl with the least amount of contact. This is especially important with smaller singing bowls, you can get away with holding a heavy big bowl in the palm of your hand. When I test singing bowls I always play them in my hand so I can bring it close to me to hear and can also feel the vibration for cracks. When I play singing bowls I prefer to have them down somewhere because the sound tends to outlast my patience for holding them. For multiple singing bowls a playing surface is a must.
Over the years my preferred surface for playing singing bowls has been carpets, especially thin dense ones like Orientals. They are thick enough to insulate and provide good friction to keep bowls in place while minimizing the dampening of sound. You can buy some very pretty cushions to cradle your singing bowls. My experience with cushions is that no matter how you do them they touch not only the bottom but the sides of bowls and dampen sound prematurely.
In addition to the ancient art of metallurgy the ancient art of carpet weaving is native to the Himalayas. I had the idea that ancient singing bowls deserve an ancient ringing surface so I have acquired old carpets and had them cut into pieces and edged. The edging was quite a task, it ended up taking weeks to finish since even the smallest carpet piece required hundreds of hand stitches. The finished product makes a fine and culturally appropriate surface for a singing bowl.