Sound bath common mistakes and best practices
Oftentimes sound healing or sound bath participants feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable by sounds that may be unintended by the sound practitioner, thus resulting in a participant’s aversion to continuing with further sessions. Without the right tools and playing techniques, singing bowls can emit unwanted buzzing, loud or piercing pitches, or even harsh percussive sounds.
This article describes ten best practices intended to encourage the sound practitioner to incorporate suggested techniques in order to create a positive and healing experience for their clients.
Best practice #1: Choosing a right cushion for your singing bowl
Singing bowls usually come with a decorative cushion or a rubber ring (in case of crystal singing bowls) on which to place the bowl. Although this can be a wonderful way to display your bowl, these cushions may not be very practical. A soft decorative cushion can dampen vibrations such that the bowl may not resonate to its full capabilities.
The most practical and inexpensive solution to stabilize your singing bowl and allow it to resonate to its full potential is to purchase a classic grip shelf liner. The classic shelf liner has just the right thickness to isolate singing bowls vibrations from the firm surface. Once your singing bowl is placed on a shelf liner, nothing will dampen its vibrations, and it will grip well enough so you can be confident your bowl won’t move around when you want to rub it.
You can either drape the shelf liner across the floor or table, or cut small squares that measure slightly larger than the diameter of the bottom of your bowls.
It is best not to place your bowl directly on a table or floor without a liner because this will result in a harsh buzzing sound and your bowl will not be stable while rubbing it, as it will tend to rotate and slide around.
The use of just a cloth alone will not improve the sound or stability when playing the singing bowl. Classic grip liner comes in a wide variety of colors so you can set a beautiful stage for your singing bowls.
Best Practice #2: Holding the singing bowl correctly
Open flat your palm and keep the fingertips away from the wall of a singing bowl. If the fingers wrap around the bowl when holding it on your palm, the bowl will not properly vibrate and respond. When the fingers touch the wall, they simply stop the vibrations.
You can balance the bowl carefully on the flat palm of your hand. In this case, avoid wearing any rings, since the contact between the vibrating bottom of the bowl and a ring will result in a buzzing sound.
You can also balance the bowl on the tips of your fingers so that the bowl can vibrate while being rubbed or struck.
It is not recommended to balance the bowl on your fingertips if you have long fingernails.
Best Practice #3: Rubbing the singing bowl
While holding the striker, gently place one finger (I usually do it with my pinky) on the outer wall of the bowl.
Place the singing bowl mallet on the outer side of the bowl and as you intend to start rubbing the bowl, release the finger that was placed on the bowl. This practice will allow you to unveil the sound from the void, since the initial meeting of the rubbing mallet and the bowl will happen silently.
With consistent slight pressure, move smoothly (like stirring a hot bowl of soup) on the outer edge of the bowl. By being patient, listening for the sound and going slow and steady you will learn how to unveil the finer details of the bowl’s qualities.
It’s not necessary to strike the bowl first, to start the bowl ringing before rubbing it.
Best Practice #4: Using an effective mallet for rubbing the singing bowl
Using a mallet that has a suede padding to rub the bowl is the best way to insure you will avoid any harsh sounds.
There is also a large variety of friction mallets with no suede padding that may highlight specific tones in your bowl. These mallets are made from different types of wood in a wide range of diameters.
It’s important to experiment with different mallets to find the right sound you want to create. Always be very gentle when using the wood part of the mallet. It’s very easy to rub too fast, creating a buzzing or harsh sound.
Best Practice #5: Striking the singing bowl
Always start with the gentlest possible tap.
You will get the best tone and clarity when striking the bowl at the top, the closest to the rim as possible.
The upper part of the bowl is more dynamic and will resonate more freely.
The lower part of the bowl is more static (rigid) and will result in less responsiveness to the strike. Please be careful when striking the bowl. Give it a gentle tap close to the rim with a slight flick of the wrist in an upwards motion and your bowl should respond.
Be patient and experiment with different intensities of striking, as well as different mallets.
It is best to allow the sound to dissipate before striking the bowl again, rather than repeatedly striking singing bowl too rapidly. This gives the listener a sense of ease and comfort and allows their mind to fully experience the quality of the sound vibrations with the initial strike.
When the sound starts to diminish you can give it another gentle strike.
Using two striking mallets at once may seem to look impressive but it will not yield the best quality of sound.
It is very important to practice your instruments regularly to understand your singing bowl’s qualities and perfect your own striking technique.
Best Practice #6: Volume of your sound bath
When you perform a sound journey or sound healing it is very important to pay attention to your volume.
Getting too loud or striking your singing bowls to create intensity could be harmful for those who are coming to you for comfort and solace. On the flip side, if you play too softly the audience may not be able to hear the sound.
Be acutely aware of the acoustics where you are playing and adjust accordingly. Make sure your bowls are placed well enough away from one another, so you do not accidentally hit a bowl unintentionally.
If possible, when performing at a venue you are not familiar with, plan to arrive early to warm up and do a sound check.
Heat up the space or cool it down (depending on the season) before your session and turn the air conditioner or any fans off during the sound journey. The white noise created by fans can be a real deal breaker if you want the audience to appreciate all the fine nuances of your instruments.
Best Practice #7: Giving space
It is not necessary to play continuously without pause. In music there are rests, pauses in the sound that give listeners a moment’s break and time to reflect.
The mind needs that space to process and absorb the sound. Provide space for rest and reflection as you move through your sound journey.
Singing bowls and gongs are not marching band drums.
Best Practice #8: Move gracefully and with purpose
Make sure to place your mallets and sticks so you can access them easily without disturbing any bowls unnecessarily. A good practice would be to have your accessories rested on something soft, so every time you are done working with the specific mallet, you put it down with no noise.
You want to make sure that all the sounds you create are intentional. If you are sitting, be sure that you can easily access all your bowls and mallets comfortably without causing discomfort to your body or creating unwanted sounds.
If you are standing and walking around the room, move slowly and purposefully so that you create a sense of peace not only in yourself but for your audience.
Ask your audience to put the water bottles down horizontally, to avoid an accidental drop.
Best Practice #9: Creating sound sequences
Listen, experiment, and practice. It is important to create space for yourself and allow enough time to experiment with the sounds you create.
You can record sequences that you find pleasing or write down in detail what you liked about a certain sequence so that you can recreate the experience for others.
Practice with different variations so that you have a variety of combinations to work with.
Build your own personal sound bank.
Familiarize yourself with music theory by listening to various types of music and studying the elements of music such as tone production, rhythm and pitch. This will help expand your knowledge of the use of sound and the application of it in sound healing.
Best Practice #10 : For gong masters
You are a conductor and a facilitator of the sound NOT a master. The bowl or a gong is not your servant, and you are not its master. You must master YOURSELF. Imagine you are like an empty vessel and allow the sound to guide your technique. Be guided by the sound and always, always, LISTEN.
Special Gratitude to my student Christine Sweet, who wrote this article.