What are Tibetan Singing Bowls

Tibetan Singing Bowls – Instruments of Divine Sound

The Tibetan singing bowl is a mystical instrument.

In many of the world’s spiritual teachings, there is a shared understanding of the Universe’s relation to sound. The Universe and all physical manifestations are one with sound – created by it and creating it each and every moment.

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Even the atoms and molecules that make us are almost entirely made of sound, which in turn, is frequency and vibrations. In order to attune ourselves to a higher level of awareness then, we often rely on the vehicle of sound. Whether it be chanting, playing an instrument, or even our own breathing, sound inspires us and invites us to explore and express what is within.

The Tibetan singing bowl has been used for thousands of years as a way of transporting those who play, listen, and chant along with it to a deeper meditative state. Like the hand pan, it is, in many ways, an instrument of “divine” sound.

Origin of the Tibetan singing bowl

In its earliest days, around 3000 B.C., the bowls were said to have been made of metal that came from meteorites that had fallen from space. They were also made of alloys of as many as five to nine, or even twelve, metals. Mesopotamia and not Tibet, surprisingly, is said to be the earliest makers of “Tibetan” singing bowls, although more than one civilization could have come up with them around the same time.

More down-to-Earth artifacts were found to have been made with just copper and tin. In the modern day, the array has expanded to include crystal singing bowls made of clear or frosted crystals and glass. These differ from original Tibetan singing bowls in that the latter are much more resonant to the ears and the rest of the body.

Construction of singing bowls

In order to make a Tibetan bowl, two of the most common methods are hammering and molding. In the first method, a flat sheet of metal is hammered over a bowl until it takes on the bowl’s shape. The edges are bent over and hammered until the finished product is entirely smooth.

For this reason, older artifacts still display the hammer marks used to create them. The second method is easier and involves pouring molten metal into a mold which forms the first part of the singing bowl.

The second part, known as the neck (rim), is formed and welded together with the first before the entire product is polished. Differences in the depth and width of each bowl can affect the sound and frequencies created by each bowl.

In many cases, bowls of different sizes are lined up together to create an entire scale of singing bowls! If you’d like to hear what that sounds like, Ron Esposito’s performance at TEDxCincinnati is a great example.

How to play the Tibetan singing bowl

It is not difficult to play a Tibetan singing bowl and anyone can learn how. First, a wooden mallet, often covered at one end with leather or cloth cushioning (which acts as a shock absorber), is struck against the bowl. The middle and pointing fingers are held a couple inches from the tip of the mallet and the covered end is the end that strikes the bowl, always at a slight angle with the bowl.

Singing Bowls and Gongs

The mallet is then rotated around the edge of the bowl using full arm motion to sustain the sound produced. To raise the frequency and “loudness” of the sound, the mallet is rotated faster around the bowl. Slowing down the rotation leads to a softer sound. In addition to high-pitched sounds, a Tibetan bowl can create “base” sounds if it is struck with the middle of the mallet perpendicular to the bowl.

The angle of the mallet should be slightly outward and the rotation should be counterclockwise. Whenever the Tibetan singing bowl is played, it creates three harmonics- a fundamental frequency and a second plus third harmonic. These result in the mysterious resonance and “vibrations” one hears emanating from the bowl.

Tonal quality

There is a lot of interesting physics about the sound produced. Scientists who otherwise have not uttered a word about spirituality have spent years investigating its properties. In a physics journal called Nonlinearity, for example, scientists captured high-speed images of water as it moves inside the bowls while they are being played.

They observed how the water was at first disturbed and changed in form. Later, droplets instantaneously propelled up from the water’s surface as the bowls were excited to a high-enough frequency. The droplets bounced up and down on the surface as the bowl continued playing.

The study was conducted simply to investigate fluid-solid interactions in the context of physics; however, the data could also be useful in the mechanics of fuel injectors and wave-particle dynamics of matter.

Relation to science and technology

Tibetan singing bowls have a place in yet another field of science- namely, psychology. It is becoming more well-known that the good effects of the sounds created may extend far beyond simply creating something beautiful. Sound therapy has been used to treat several psychological, and even physical, ailments that medications have been unable to.

“Health benefits” of singing bowls

One reason why it works might be due to the phenomena of “mind over matter” in that one’s mental state affects the physical. Another is that the sounds from the instrument serve for brain entrainment purposes that in the long run can alter the way a person’s overall health.

Health Benefits of Singing Bowls

An article recognizing the instrument as one which enhances “mood, (lessens) anxiety, pain, and spiritual well-being” was even featured on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) website.

Introduction to the Western world

The Tibetan singing bowl was first introduced to the US less than thirty years ago, chiefly by a musicologist named Rain Gray. For eight years, he had been touring Tibet and researching the bowls being used by Tibetan monks.

In 1986, he interviewed two monks, Lama Lobsang Molam and Lama Lobsang Leshe. These monks told him that when they played the bowls and meditated on the sound, it would deliver a sort of transmission and experiential teaching of the Dharma. The vibrations affect listeners in different ways, creating a Voidness that distances the self from the mind and body.

Singing bowls in modern music

Ever since then, many music artists who incorporate the Tibetan singing bowl into their work have achieved worldwide renown. Some of these artists include folk music bands from faraway places such as the Haya band of Mongolia and Ani Choying Drolma, a singing nun from Nepal. Closer by artists include the sound healer Klaus Wiese from Germany also known in the US as a master of the Tibetan singing bowl and many other traditional instruments.

The growing popularity of Tibetan singing bowls cannot be denied. It is becoming one of the most popular sounds to be featured on ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos on YouTube.

The sound is rather otherworldly, though more warmly so than eerily. The lingering notes that result from just a tap and swirl of the mallet, flow through the air and straight into you, singing and speaking to your soul.

Works Cited