Tibetan Singing Bowls: Asia’s Amazing Harmonic Bells

singing bowlsPhoto: KENPEI

Singing bowls are actually standing bells; they sit on a surface right side up rather than hang from rafters or poles. Made and used in Asia, from the Himalayas to China and Vietnam, they have many uses. In Buddhism, they can signal the start or end of meditation, but they are also used in doctors’ offices to relieve stress and in classrooms to focus students.

They come in all sizes, from small single bowls to groups of them that harmonize. Singing bowls are especially unique because they don’t just produce one tone. They have overtones that come from the different minerals and metals used in making the bowls. They’re made of silver, bronze, copper, and mostly a mix of metals which give the unique overtones in their sound.

The sound is made by rubbing a leather, wooden or plastic mallet over the surface and rim of the bowl. The bowls have been used for centuries; some bells found date from as early as the 8th to 10th century BC.

Singing bowls are still made today using ancient techniques, but newer ones often don’t sound as good because time and age mellow the harmonics of the bowls. Different Buddhists use them at different times: Chinese Buddhists use them to accompany the wooden fish during chants, and in Japan they are often used during traditional funeral rites.

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