A Bowl or a Bell?

So, what is a Tibetan Singing Bowl? Although the instrument goes by the name of Singing Bowls or Tibetan Singing Bowls, they are actually a type of bell. The shape of the Singing Bowl and how we place them when in use and when displaying is why we think of them as bowls. Specifically they are classified as a standing bell, due to the beautiful sound they emanate when played. One wouldn’t use these bowls for food or liquid, however, unless you want to change the tune of the vibration when playing. By adding or subtracting water to the singing bowl, the bowl alters the sound it emits.

Basics of Playing

Singing bowls are either played by striking the rim with a padded mallet or they can also be played by the friction of rubbing a wooden, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim. By rubbing the rim the mallet is able to produce overtones and a continuous ‘singing’ sound. Rather than placing the bowl upside down to play like a drum or attaching to a handle to hold while playing, singing bowls sit with the base resting. The rim vibrates to produce sound characterized by a fundamental frequency and usually two audible harmonic overtones (second and third harmonic).

 

Antique vs Modern Singing Bowls

Both antique and modern bowls are widely used as an aid to meditation. They are used in yoga and meditation classes, music therapy, sound healing, religious services, performance, and personal enjoyment.

Singing bowls are still manufactured today in the traditional way as well as with modern manufacturing techniques. Newer bowls may be plain or decorated. They sometimes feature religious iconography and spiritual motifs and symbols, such as the Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, images of Buddhas, and Ashtamangala (the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols).

Modern, new singing bowls can be made using one of two processes. Hand hammering is the traditional method of creating singing bowls which are still used to make new bowls. This is the more labor-intensive, and more expensive process of creating a singing bowl. The same method that was used originally 2,500 years ago is still used to create this type of bowl. The material is heated to a high temperature over the fire until the bowl glows a dark red. This is when the bowl becomes malleable, and the worker takes it out of the fire, hammers it, and repeats the process until the bowl’s basic form is completed.

The modern method, which is less expensive to purchase, is by sand casting and then machine lathing. Machine lathing can be done only with brass, so machine lathed singing bowls are made with modern techniques and modern brass alloy.