Every singing bowl sound sample recorded on our web site has been played with the following variety of mallets. Singing bowls can sound completely different whether they are struck with wool, leather or wood; and you can isolate completely different tones depending upon the mallet and the playing technique you use. All of the mallets produce different sounds from the bowls, and learning which ones to use with which bowls – and how to use them – is an ongoing discovery.
Back in the late ’70’s in Kathmandu, we know the Nepalese played singing bowls with Roti sticks. Historically, any plain wood dowel may have been used. But the harsh sound created by the wood striking the metal also had the effect of sharply kicking up the female overtone, and hence burying the deeper, more subtle sound of the fundamental tone. Hence, the wool padded mallet!
WOOL PADDED MALLET
This wooden mallet, semi-padded with monk’s wool, softens the struck sound of a singing bowl. A Bodhisattva basic, the padded mallet is designed to bring all of the bowls’ frequencies up at equal volume. We played with different thicknesses of the dowel, which is made of Sheesham, a Himalayan hardwood. In time, we found if the dowels were roughly 30 mm. thick, that was about right for producing a balanced struck tone in most medium sized singing bowls and even some of the Highwalls as well. This type of mallet produces most of the bowl strikes you hear in the recordings on our web site. The wooden handle provides a rimming surface as well.
HOW TO USE IT FOR STRIKING:
Using the wool padded end, strike the singing bowl on its mid-exterior wall, or on the interior upper wall. Acoustically, upper octave tones carry louder than deeper tones, due to their increased saturation of sound waves. So when we strike a singing bowl with a padded mallet, we hear the richness of the fundamental tone much more clearly in the mix. Avoid striking the bowl on the top of the lip, as this will produce too much of a percussive hit.
HOW TO USE IT FOR RIMMING:
1. Sit as if you were sitting for meditation, with your spine straight and relaxed, your shoulders level and your breath generous but natural. Make sure to release any unnecessary tension in your arms, shoulders and face, as singing bowls are bio-feedback instruments and they tend to be really quiet when we’re holding tension in our bodies.
2. Hold the singing bowl on the palm of your non-dominant hand, with your fingers energized and held closely together. This is important so that your fingers and thumb do not involuntarily wrap around the base of the bowl while playing, which will dampen the sound. Hold the bowl about Solar Plexus level, slightly tilted so that the aperture of the bowl is opening into the direction where your mallet is coming from.
3. With your dominant hand, grasp the mallet in its center and hold it as if you were about to sign your name with the wooden end of the mallet. Make sure the covered part of the mallet is snuggled securely in the web between the thumb and the index finger, and that there is never any gap there while playing. So your grasp on the mallet should be firm, but never strained.
4. Position the mallet at a 35% angle against the outside edge of the lip of the bowl. With an even pressure, rub the mallet in at least 4 or 5 revolutions, or until you begin to hear the female overtone build. Use a full arm motion, like you’re stirring a pot of soup. Try to keep your wrist as straight as possible.
5. Once the female overtone starts to comes up bright and clear, reduce your speed and press a little bit more firmly. If you hear “chattering” against the lip of the bowl, either reduce your speed even more, increase your pressure, or both. Watch the bowl as you continue to rub the rim, and listen the bowl’s voice. Adjust your angle, pressure and speed accordingly. When you bring it all together, the female overtone should sound sweet and clear.
Although it is tempting to close your eyes when first starting to play, I find that it’s helpful at least in the beginning to keep them open and to observe what you’re doing carefully. This practice also gives the focus necessary to clear the mind. If there is chatter on the inside lap of the circle, check to see if your angle and speed are consistent all 360 degrees. Once the tone is even and smooth and you’re really connected to the bowl – then close them if you like.
Remember to apply even pressure– the friction of the mallet against the outer rim produces vibrations which result in sound. Experiment with your speed, slowing down as the female tone comes up. Usually people go too fast! It you still hear chatter, look for the threshold of speed where the bowl’s rim tone sounds best. Being hand forged, each bowl is constructed differently. So each one will require a slightly different technique.
We first saw these coming out of Kathmandu about in the late 90’s, and offer them as a dedicated rimming mallet. They are made of a harder wood, so when used for rimming, they tend to bring up the female overtone faster and with less friction noise than the wooden end of the wool-padded mallet. We also make them in different widths, so we can also select a fatter or thinner one depending on the thickness of the bowl, This reduces “overloading” the bowl by using too heavy a mallet. These mallets come standard with our medium antique and contemporary bowls, as well as some Highwalls.
HOW TO USE IT FOR STRIKING:
The suede end of this mallet can also can be used to soften a strike, but there won’t be as much low-end as with a wool-padded mallet. But they do bring out a superior tonal balance in cup bowls, which I’ll talk about below.
HOW TO USE IT FOR ISOLATING THE FUNDAMENTAL:
The suede end can also be used for isolating the singing bowl’s fundamental, or deepest tone. It is produced by massaging the bowl’s outer wall with the suede end of mallet, with slightly lighter pressure and an initial, faster speed. When a set of singing bowls is based on fundamental tones, those tones will have been produced with this end of the mallet, which isolates the third octave frequencies in most medium sized bowls. To hear an example of a set played like this, check out this Chromatic Master Healing Set. First you will hear a mix of struck tones in sequence, followed by a mix of the bowls played on the fundamental.
Isolating the fundamental requires a deeper level of awareness, breath and concentration. Follow the instructions regarding your rimming technique for the female overtone, only use the suede end of the mallet and hold the mallet flush against the exterior of the bowl wall so that it is pointing straight up. Experiment with using a pressure and speed. This technique may be used on all but the thickest Thadobatis, highwalls, and cups. For a demonstration of this technique, watch the second half of my video How to Play a Singing Bowl.
We’ve also developed a smaller, 20 mm. width leather padded mallet specifically designed for use with cup bowls. Striking smaller bowls with a leather padded mallet is better because of the pressure vs. weight issue: wool padding softens the blow, and therefore it requires more force to create volume in a struck tone. A medium size bowl will hold its ground, but smaller cup bowls will go flying! So, leather mallets offer a more controlled strike on cups. Also, the shorter length (about 6″) of the mallet creates a more manageable fulcrum when playing the rim of a cup bowl. We use these mallets to record most of the Cup bowls and Singing Bowl Cup Sets on our site.
This is the consummate mallet for isolating the fundamental tone of Highwall singing bowls. The fatter dowel (40 – 60 mm. wide) exposes more of the bowl’s wall to the surface of the suede, and adds enough extra pressure to get all that metal moving! The wooden handle of this mallet can be used to get a rim tone on larger, Contemporary Highwalls, but are overkill for most antique Highwalls.
HOW TO USE IT:
For isolating the fundamental of a Highwall, use the suede end of the Fat Boy exactly as you would the suede mallet. This technique will pull 2nd octave fundamental tones out of most larger Highwall singing bowls. It sounds like monks chanting! To hear this technique being used on Highwalls, check out this Chakra tuned set of Highwall singing bowls. First you will hear a mix of the struck tones in sequence, followed by the fundamentals.
On Highwall bowls with triangulated lips, you have another option with a Fat Boy. When you you angle the leather of the fat boy on the lip with enough pressure, it can pull the mid-tone up and weave it into the mix with the fundamental, so that the now you are playing an interval of the Highwalls’ lower major frequencies. Delicious!
Yes, it’s a screwdriver handle, modified for playing singing bowl rim tones. Producers Joe Sidaris and Dennis Ghiatis developed this alternative to a wooden mallet during the recording of the seminal singing bowl recording One Hand Clapping at Warner Brothers. In a recording situation, the mikes have to be very hot in order to pick up the quiet, subtle nuances of singing bowl frequencies, so the friction noise of the wood against the metal becomes a major problem. And so the Xcelite mallet was born! We record most singing bowl rim tones with this mallet, and I also use them live in a miked situation.
HOW TO USE IT:
Gently gripping the handle, rim the singing bowl with its lip nestled in the curve of the Xcelite’s fluted edge. The Xcelites also sold online, but they are molded with a couple of side seams that have to be sanded down in order to work. The ones we provide are ready to go. They require practice, but they are worth it!
These are for use with Highwall singing bowls only. We have a variety of gong mallets available, but our best modifications for use with singing bowls are rubber headed, padded with wool. There is more percussion on a gong mallet strike, but they can emphasize the deeper tones of the Highwalls. Thinner Highwalls require a smaller gong head.
HOW TO USE IT:
Strike the outer wall of a Highwall singing bowl. Let sustain. Ride the sound waves deep within, floating freely in the inner space devoid of thought and emotion. Rest there a while. Repeat! Good for a bowl on a cushion or on the body. Thinner Highwalls sound better with the wool padded mallet because of the more controlled hit.
Our singing bowls product pages list which mallets were used in our sound samples. Mallets used in the recordings generally come free with each bowl sold online. If you have been a customer of ours for a while, you are welcome to request different mallets you don’t already have, so if you’re ordering a bowl from us, feel free to ask us about them.
Enjoy the sounds!