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  • Singing Bowls

    Singing bowls come in all shapes and sizes. Photo credit: Kashgar

    Singing bowls are actually a type of bell, and are thus classified as standing bells because they sit with their base resting on a surface rather than hanging inverted attached to a handle.  They are played by rubbing a wooden, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim to produce a vibrating sound.  They may be plain or decorated with patterns of simple lines, rings and circles or with more complex religious motifs and symbols such as mantras, images of the Buddha or the Eight Auspicious Symbols.  They are often termed Tibetan singing bowls, although it is likely that bowls were never actually used in Tibet and most today are made in Nepal and India.

    Surprisingly, the original uses of singing bowls are not well known - at the time of the Buddha (circa 550 BCE) they may simply have been used as metal food containers designed to inhibit bacterial growth.   From the 10th century CE onwards metal bowls resembling singing bowls were used as receptacles in Buddhist religious ceremonies.  Today, singing bowls are used throughout Asia as part of Bön and Tantric Buddhist religions, principally as supportive devices for meditation, trance induction and prayer.  In recent years they have become popular in the Western world as an aid to meditation, trance-induction, relaxation, health-care, personal well-being, yoga, music therapy, sound healing, personal enjoyment and religious practice.  The reason for the success of the singing bowl in so many health and well-being related fields is not solely spiritual in nature, but is grounded in scientific theory, called brainwave entrainment.  The harmonics created by singing bowls may allow brainwave frequencies to fall into step with the frequency of a dominant external stimulus, ie that of the singing bowl, creating a synchronization of the left and right brains and providing a corresponding period of relaxation and sense of well being.

    Traditionally singing bowls were made of a bronze alloy consisting of seven metals: copper, tin, nickel, zinc, iron and small amounts of silver and gold.  The most highly prized antique bowls included "sky-iron" smelted from meteorites and tektites, and sometimes even other rare trace metals.  The best bowls today are still made from seven-metal bronze, although they rarely include meteorite iron.  Less expensive bowls are made from simpler alloys.  Hand beaten bowls produce the best sounds while those spun or cast produce less complex sounds. It is also said that the tone of a bowl changes with time, improving to become richer and mellower as it ages.

    When made of seven-metal bronze, singing bowls produce subtle yet complex sounds consisting of a principal tone and several harmonic overtones, the result of using an alloy consisting of multiple metals, each of which produces its own distinct overtone. Some of these may fall outside of the normal range of hearing.  Bowls made from simpler alloys can only produce a principal tone and one harmonic overtone.  Thus the sounds produced by each bowl is unique, a product of alloy type and complexity, size, weight, age, thickness and regularity of the rim. 

    Singing bowls are delicate musical instruments and should never be dropped or treated roughly.  When dropped they may crack like glass and lose all inherent musical qualities.

     Audio Sample  High quality singing bowls produce a complex chord of one principal tone and several harmonic overtones. Singing bowls may also be played by striking softly with a mallet to produce a warm bell tone Audio Sample


    References and Further Reading

    Gillabel, D 2001.  How to Use Singing Bowls.

    Jansen, E R 1992. Singing bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Binkey Kok Publications, Holland. ISBN 9074597017

    Pillai, RM, Pillai, SGK and Damodaran AD.  The Lost-Wax Casting of Icons, Utensils, Bells, and Other Items in South IndiaJOM, October 2002.

    Verbeke Geert, Singing Bowls an ABC, Pilgrims Bookhouse, Kathmandu Nepal. ISBN. 81-7769-052-3

    Wikipedia.  Brainwave Entrainment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainwave_synchronization.  Accessed 20th May 2010

    Wikipedia. Singing Bowl http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_bowl accessed 21st May 2010

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