How to Play a Tibetan Singing Bowl
A Tibetan singing bowl is a beautiful and unique instrument that has become more well known in recent years as clean healing, mindfulness, and the power of sound inflate in popularity. Learning how to play a Tibetan singing bowl gives you the power to harness this knowledge.
Same as with learning any other kind of instrument, where should you begin? For a relatively simple instrument, this can still be very confusing. To help out, we’ve put together the essentials that you need to know in order to get started.
Tibetan Singing Bowl: The Basics
Of course, before we get into the techniques on how to play it, let’s get to know a bit more about Tibetan singing bowls first. Tibetan singing bowls have been around for longer than Buddhist culture even though they are often considered to have originated from Buddhist beliefs.
Really, they have been a long-standing traditional tool used in rituals in the Himalayan region (in Tibet, Nepal, and other areas) for a very long time.
Today, the harmonic hums that are created by a Tibetan singing bowl (or several) are used to help with the following:
- Religious rituals
It is worth noting that, technically speaking, Tibetan singing bowls are not bowls at all. They are actually a type of standing bell that resembles a bowl in appearance.
Standing bells are made out of a material that is known as bell metal. It is widely believed that the traditional way of making these bowls has been lost, but there are many still being made in the Himalayan region and around the world.
How to Play a Tibetan Singing Bowl
Now that you know more about the singing bowl, let’s get into the details of playing it! There are a few different methods that you can follow. As you learn how to use these techniques, you’ll be able to combine them for a more impressive performance.
Method 1: Rimming
Rimming a singing bowl is a bit like stirring a big pot of pasta in that you use the mallet to build and control the sound through a stirring motion. It should be noted that this is the more complicated of the two techniques.
1. Sit down, relax, and hold the bowl in your non-dominant hand.
2. Then, grip the mallet like a pen with your dominant hand.
3. Use the mallet to strike the middle exterior part of the bowl lightly. This is called “warming up” the bowl.
4. Before those vibrations stop, place the mallet near the bowls’ rim. Place it on the outside of the bowl. Then, start moving the mallet in a clockwise, circular motion. Make sure that you do this quickly after striking the bowl to capture the energy of the strike.
5. Use the mallet to begin circling the bowl at least three times. This motion is much like stirring a pot, except you want to make sure that you keep the mallet vertical. This motion will help to build up the female overtone of the singing bowl.
6. Once that sound builds, slow down and use more pressure in your stirring motion. The sound will become clearer and sweeter sounding.
Does that make sense? We know it can be a little complicated to understand this technique at first, but it will all become easier as you practice more and more.
This video helps to illustrate the technique in action. Study it to start your journey of using a Tibetan singing bowl:
Method 2: Striking
The striking method is a bit simpler for beginners to learn, so you may want to practice this method first.
1. Hold your bowl in your non-dominant hand and your mallet in your dominant hand in the same way that you did for the rimming method.
2. Now, pick up the mallet as if it is a baton. Use the padded part of the mallet to hit the outside of the exterior wall in the middle of the bowl.
3. This should make a beautiful sound.
4. Let this sound vibrate loudly.
5. Strike again once the sounds fully dissipate.
In this video, you can see both techniques fully demonstrated with a clear, crisp description:
Reminders Before You Play
Before you start playing your Tibetan singing bowl, you will want to take some time to break in your mallet. The mallet is made out of hardwood, and it also has a padded surface. At first, this mallet will be completely smooth on both ends.
As you play, however, the mallet will begin to wear in. It will develop what is known as micro-grooves. These grooves add both texture and grip to the mallet, which will help to create better sounds. So, you should definitely take the time to break in your mallet.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take much time to break it in. You only need to play with your mallet and bowl for about five minutes. You can use this time to learn and practice your new techniques!
While we did not cover these advanced techniques today, it is worth mentioning that there are even more ways that you can experiment with a Tibetan singing bowl and learn more about playing it.
Some of the most popular advanced techniques are:
- Wah-wah technique – using your mouth as a way to deflect and redirect the sound
- Water technique – adding a small amount of water to the bowl to change the sound
- Isolating sound technique – using different mallets to isolate specific frequencies
This video demonstrates the water technique, one of the most popular of the advanced techniques:
Now that you know more about how to play a Tibetan singing bowl, you can start practicing with your new instrument. While this instrument is relatively simple to use, there are a lot of rich, complex sounds that you can create by practicing with the mallet and bowl. In time, you will be able to create your own soothing sounds.
Remember that the most important thing that you should do when learning how to play a Tibetan singing bowl properly is to practice! Good luck!