Playing and Tuning
Making music on a Sounding Bowl
The Sounding Bowl is a versatile instrument that allows for improvised and formal music making. With little or no musical background and by using the techniques below you can discover which strings sound good together and discover the moods that arise within the different intervals. Beyond that you may wish to play songs you know, or learn new ones from written music.
Melody Bowls are the easiest instrument to play but any Sounding Bowl, with 7 or more strings, is set up for playing tunes. Lullabies, airs and laments from the Shetland Isles tradition, from Native American music, from Balinese or Japanese folklore can all be played on these smaller Bowls. The small and radiant pattern of stringing used in the Lyre Bowl, though less intuitive to the European/Western mindset, is common in African music. It has the distinct advantage of balancing left and right; producing and encouraging integration across both hemispheres of the brain. Bowls with 7 strings are set to a pentatonic scale, such as ancient cultures from all over the world have used or continue to use today. 9 or 10 strings allow both modern tunings as well as ancient options. 12 + strings give a full range of expression in the scales and modes of today.
Learning to play songs takes only a little practice; while you are learning it can help to apply little stickers to the Bowl edge that name the string notes.
Playing without music
Playing a Sounding Bowl is so easy that most people are genuinely surprised when they first pick one up. Each string is so rich in resonant harmonics it almost becomes music in itself. Add a little rhythm into your plucking, add a few extra notes and music emerges. The look of surprise and delight on people’s faces as they discover this is a regular experience for Sounding Bowl owners. Many people who have spent much of their lives believing they are “just not musical” now make music regularly on their Sounding Bowls.
Add into this experience of easy improvisational music the effect of bringing live music into your life, of spending time listening in depth to wonderful sounds and you can see how close to meditation this brings a person. Regular play on a Sounding Bowl typically brings real positive change into a person’s life. Even music therapists frequently contact us to exclaim “I thought I was buying this for my clients but I now find it is bringing wonderful things into my own life”
Watching and listening to how our customers played, learnt and used their Sounding Bowls Tobias put together a sheet of simple guidance for new owners called “Beginning to Play” The emphasis is on playing like a child plays, learning through the fun of it.
How to play a Sounding Bowl
The most common way to play a Sounding Bowl is to finger pluck the strings. Some people occasionally use a plectrum or light-weight string-hammers, a technique that is borrowed from the Indian Santoor or American Dulcimer players.
There are many ways to pluck a stringed instrument and different plucking techniques, seen amongst musicians who play guitars, harps or lyres, can be employed on the strings of a Sounding Bowl.
- A common method of plucking amongst guitarists is to put the fingertip under the string and raise it up, thus releasing the string on the pass. This gives a bright tone and allows for fast action.
- A more robust technique used by harpists to create volume is to bend the string between thumb and finger and release both simultaneously. This creates a very strong sound with harder overtones that some may find pleasing.
- The subtler technique employed by Lyrists is to place the finger over the string and roll it downwards so the string is part plucked and part stroked. This gives a softer tone which is more open to expressive intonation.
Sounding Bowl players use all of these techniques. One of the great advantages of Sounding Bowls is that there is no right or wrong way to play them. We encourage you to explore the techniques that generate the greatest satisfaction in your experience; it is your ear that tells you how best to play this instrument and your heart that responds with a yes or no.
This approach creates a whole new world of opportunity, all of it harmonious.
Tuning your Sounding Bowl
Tuning is an easy part of Sounding Bowl owenership. Slight adjustments of each string change the note either to give you a new scale or to bring the tuning back into pitch before playing. The electronic tuner, a simple palm sized gadget comes with your Sounding Bowl and shows, with a needle-screen as well with coloured lights which note and how close to perfect you have it. Frequency of tuning varies from daily to monthly depending on weather and style of Sounding Bowl chosen.
Every Sounding Bowl comes with comprehensive tuning instructions, chart of various scales and electronic tuning device. The major/minor scales of modern music can be supplemented by the modes of earlier times; each mode having a particular mood of soul which can enrich one’s music meditations. Instructions for tuning your bowl to the different modes are also included in the tuning chart.
If you are new to music then here is a guide to the Basics of Music.