a singing bowl held in one hand being played by a mallet in the other hand

How To Play Singing Bowls: Techniques To Enhance Meditation

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to make a singing bowl sing or you’re simply looking to improve your singing bowl technique, you’re in the right place.

These metal bowls tend to look rather unassuming in their own right – but they hide a secret to the untrained eye. When used correctly, they can generate all manner of fascinating sounds,

Often called “Tibetan singing bowls” or “Himalayan singing bowls”, they’re typically used as an aid during meditation.

The sounds they generate are used in both religious practice and more secular settings, with the intent of inducing a relaxed state of mind.

It’s remarkably simple to learn how to use singing bowls – but before we get started, there’s a little more you should know about them. It’s important to understand some of the background behind these unusual artefacts.

How does a singing bowl work?

Despite their name, singing bowls are actually a type of bell.

If you strike a singing bowl, you’ll discover that it generates a distinctive tone with considerable resonance.

Singing bowls are also well-known for the unique sound they generate when a mallet is run around the rim of the bowl.

Now, this distinctive sound comes from the metal the bowl is made from vibrating. It’s very similar to the way instruments like a glass harp or glass harmonica work.

However, a singing bowl is used to produce a drone with overtones, rather than melodies. Some people feel this drone helps them relax and move into a meditative state of mind more easily.

Why do people learn how to use singing bowls?

People learn how to play a Tibetan singing bowl for a variety of reasons.

In the West, these bowls are most commonly associated with Buddhist and New Age spiritual practices, which often place an emphasis on meditation.

Concepts such as chakra notes may also be incorporated as part of these practices, though specifics will vary across different schools of thought. 

Utilising a singing bowl certainly isn’t mandatory for meditation. But repetitive actions and noises can help clear the mind and help you be present in the moment.

It might appear strange at first glance – but just think of how prayer beads like Japamala and the Rosary are utilised in other faith traditions. It’s much the same principle, just executed with a different form.

For some, it’s an aid in more secular mindfulness and relaxation practices. Some people enjoy the sounds they generate and feel that they have a soothing effect.

Singing bowls have also gained considerable traction in the field of alternative medicine. Some people claim that they can heal all sorts of illnesses and diseases with singing bowls.

Treat anyone making these claims with scepticism. Although there is some scientific basis for their potential to reduce anxiety, they are not magical curatives. Always consult with a health professional. 

Last, but not least, some people learn how to play a singing bowl purely for musical purposes. Many musicians – particularly those producing ambient or New Age records – will incorporate them into their recordings.

The origins of singing bowls

No one’s quite sure where the singing bowl origins were from or who the first people to learn how to play a Tibetan singing bowl were..

Though people often assume Tibet to be their origin point, there’s more evidence pointing to India or Japan – and the exact timeline is a bit hazy.

Unfortunately, the investigation can also be derailed by clichés about the “Mysterious East” often perpetuated by Westerners during the 20th century. These ideas have only served to muddy the waters further.

However, they first appear to have made an impression in the Western world in the 1970s, amid the then-nascent New Age music scene. In fact, the 1972 album Tibetan Bells by Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings may be the first album to feature recordings of these distinctive instruments.

Singing bowl technique

So, let’s take a look at how to use singing bowls.

There are two main techniques – ringing and rimming. Other variations do exist, but they primarily draw on these two styles. 

  • Ringing

Ringing is exactly what it sounds like – simply strike the bowl with its accompanying mallet, and let the sound ring out and gradually fade.  

  • Rimming

To generate the unique drone noise, all you need to do is run the mallet around the rim of the bowl at an angle. At first, you may need to try a few different angles to get the right sound, but it will eventually become second nature with practice. You’ll be able to hear a bright, clear tone when it’s working correctly.

You will need to exercise a constant, even pressure at a slow speed. Make sure to use your whole arm, not just your wrist. Too much pressure or speed will create a rattling sound, rather like a school bell ringing – which is less pleasant than the intended tone.  

When using these during a meditation session, many people use a mix of both sounds. There isn’t a prescribed formula – we’d just suggest that you experiment and play around with a variety of techniques to find the sound that you like.

One of the most popular variations of these techniques is to partially fill the bowl with water. This will allow you to change the bowl’s intonation, whether ringing or rimming. Just make sure to wipe it out afterwards, to prevent corrosion.

And when you’re all done using your singing bowl, it should be stored on a dedicated cushion. This will help maintain the integrity of the metal and prevent it from being damaged.

Discover more about singing bowls at Mindful Store

Here at Mindful Store, we stock an extensive range of singing bowls and other meditation accessories. We also provide a range of resources for novice and experienced users alike, right here on our blog. So make sure you browse through some of the other articles.

And if you have any questions about our product range, make sure to get in touch with the team here at Mindful Store. 
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