Sound therapy is at its high nowadays. Literally from all directions one is surrounded by various sound healing options: meditations, ceremonies, workshops or simply singing bowls sellers offering a vast offer of sound related products. Whereas this might have its positive sides (more selection, competitive prices, etc…) on the other hand creates a mass confusion in the acquisition phase. This unique article is therefore for the first time giving you a full breakdown of the selection criteria with some practical tips before investment. Introduction: 7 most important things to consider when buying singing bowls: 1 – Purpose of use (Crystal or Metal) 2 – Therapeutic Vs. Meditation type of metal bowls 3 – Root frequency (base note) 4 – Tone sustain (ringing time) 5 – Vibration intensity (tactile transmission) 6 – Rim Smoothness 7 – Integration flexibility (with other tools) Crystal and metal singing bowls 1. First we need to be clear about the use of the singing bowl/s… Are you intending to do 1 on 1 private sessions or group sound meditations (a.k.a. sound-baths)? Or are you using them just for fun or music making? In general, my advice is to always start with metal alloy bowls. Unless you’ll be conducting only group sound meditations, metal bowls offer more flexibility and better integration in diverse applications. The usually strong transmission of vibration can be experienced as audible sound and as tactile transmission thus making them ideal for individual and group settings. Metal bowls prefer to be hit (tapped) with a soft padded mallet and occasionally rimmed (rubbed) with a wooden/suede wand. Dispersion of sound into silence is one of the core therapeutic features of metal bowls. On the other hand, crystal singing bowls usually emanate louder and more piercing tones. That’s chiefly due usually being rimmed (rubbed) therefore, the sound is rather “constant” allowing us to additionally “build up” on the already existing sound pressure level. Unless using the “clear” type of bowls that are usually thinner and meant to be tapped, the sandblasted “frosted” type of bowls will sound with a quite short and often “duller” tone in comparison with the clear ones when hit. In majority of the cases Crystal bowls are somewhat limited while working in private 1 on 1 sessions. Hand hammered therapeutic (left) and cast meditation singing bowls (right) 2. Second: we need to understand that there is a subdivision between Therapeutic and Meditation metal bowls... In Nepal and India where the majority of singing bowls are produced they are offering 2 main types: 1. The so called ”Tourist” – Souvenir type or Meditation bowls. Those are usually made of thick brass and are heavily decorated: (with engravings, etching, bossed-out Buddha, Chakra, Sanskrit motives, etc…). The proper definition of those however would be “cast” bowls. They are usually of small to mid-size diameter 2-7” (5-18cm) and offer inferior transmission of vibrations (compared to the hand hammered). They can however be used for group sound meditations but are not suitable for 1 on 1 work. Since machine made, they are usually very easy to rim. 2. The second type of bowls are the hand hammered also known as Therapeutic bowls. They come in different sizes and shapes. The common denominator among them is that they are hand manufactured using bell bronze metal. During the last 50 years a lot of myths arisen in their regards: for instance wrongly called “Tibetan” bowls, since vendors would like you to believe that they were made by monks in Tibetan monasteries under a secret alchemical formula of 7 metals (this is perhaps one of the biggest lie in the field of sound therapy). One of the newest trend are also the so called “Full moon” bowls that gained notable popularity within the last 10 years, needless to say a nice selling attempt as well, as finally there are only 2 options: “Contemporary” or “Antique” hand hammered bowls. Frequencies in a singing bowl 3. Each singing bowl possess a multitude of frequencies. Metal bowls contain a lot of overtones (often misinterpreted as harmonics) whereas Crystal bowls being precisely and repetitively machine molded posses sinusoidal “pure” sound properties, usually resulting in one very pronounced fundamental frequency with not so evident and considerable overtones. If we strike the bowl with a proper* mallet we will be always able to determine what is their “home” base note or tone. The root note is often assigned to a particular “healing power” or “chakra”. Hence if the bowls are coming as set they should have consistent and precise root frequencies. Often a metal bowl has a dim root note, therefore the user might get deceived into believing that the bowl is possessing another root note (usually the 1st or 2nd overtone). That’s even more evident when we are using an inappropriate mallet, for example a mallet with a too small beater head diameter or a mallet that it’s not padded enough. Unfortunately, nowadays it is very common trend of bowls being tapped with a wooden wand, that not only evokes higher pitch notes but also builds tension within the human body. The wand is meant to rim/rub the bowl not to strike it. 4. Tone sustain (ringing time):.. As most of the sound therapy tools are Idiophones, the time they vibrate (produce sound) is of crucial importance. This transition from sound into silence usually offers us the opportunity to access presence. As a rule of thumb we can say that a good singing bowl should have a sustain time of at least 20 seconds from the impact of the mallet until the sound is approximately at 30% of its initial power. Hand hammered bowls in most cases will be ringing longer compared to the machine produced ones. More metals creates more sound interference due different densities among them (disruptive resonance). Often while the bowls are ringing we are able to hear a full scale of “supportive” sonic events, either in the form of intertwining overtones or monaural beats combing into the sound-field. It is useful to pay attention and listen attentively to it, as those events on their own (when only one bowl is used) might be pleasant and desirable, whereas when more bowls are used together at once this might create destructive sound interference. Bowls that have “thicker walls” are in general ringing longer as the alloy resounding properties are more pronounced (ex. church bells are usually thick). 5 – Vibration intensity (tactile transmission) Sound is more than we hear! Often I got asked, “What do I benefit from attending your group sound meditations in person if i can listen to an ocean of meditations on YouTube?” My reply is usually just gently tapping a bowl and bringing it in their proximity and then asking them: “Do you FEEL the sound?” The reply is obviously “Yes”. Then I continue and ask again: “How will you get this FEELING on YouTube?” Then it becomes super clear… sound is not only what we hear (for instance through headphones) but also what we perceive through other senses. The biggest human organ is the skin and the information we absorb while being exposed to sound is often tactile experience.Therefore it is important to consider this aspect as well, while you make your bowl selection. Cast bowls in particular have very little “Charge” in other words if you compare a hand-hammered bowl to a meditation bowl this becomes evident immediately: the Therapeutic bowl will be deliv ering audible sound + vibration while the Cast bowl will be more than not often emit just a higher pitched sound. Antique Jambati style (old bowls) are known for having a super visible contraction-expansion motion and are often used as “Fountain bowl” to demonstrate the cymatic patterns, thus making sound visible. The rim of a singing bowl 6 – Rim Smoothness A lot of you might like to rim the bowl. This cyclic and potentially infinite activity seems to have a very calming (sedative) effect. But doing it sometimes look easier than it is in real life situation. For obtaining a constant and even sounding bowl we need to understand the law of cohesion: we need to be able to maintain a constant friction between the edge (rim) of the singing bowl and the wand. Usually wands have 2 sides: one side has an artificial suede or sometimes natural leather, while the other side is wooden. The “roughness” of the wand wood/suede in conjunction with the sharpness of the bowl rim co-creates the before mentioned cohesion. Saying that i would like to point out that sometimes a bowl will be very hard to rim, but it might sound fantastic while being tapped – or vice versa. One quite important parameter in that equation is also the circumference of the bowl. The more the bowl is perfectly shaped in a circular form the better will be the response of our “action”. One more thing to be considered is also the “Lip” of the singing bowl. Usually the edge or lip is additionally reinforced (often by an added additional thin belt of bronze alloy) in order to protect the bowl in case of concussion with some other objects.Sometimes this is the reason why is not easy to rim the bowl. Machine made bowls are in general very easy to rim, yet we still need to have a wand of the appropriate circumference: for example rimming a 12″ bowl with a half inch wand might be very hard and inefficient. And even if we manage to make it ring the sound will most-likely be of the 1st or second overtone rather than the fundamental tone of the bowl. 7 – Integration flexibility (with other tools) Often a bowl sounds beautifully while being played alone and on it’s own. Nowadays in spite of “better efficiency” we often like to use more bowls at once. Usually “Chakra set” of 7 bowls are being sold as a golden standard. Personally i do believe that sets should have 8 notes; If you would like to know more on the subject soon i’ll be posting an article: “Wholeness is in 8”. Whenever we add another sound source the two will start interacting having a sort of relationship. And as we know some relationships can be “difficult” even in sound. This is particularly evident while some interactions seem to be dissonant. If we use dissonance in a smart way that is not a problem it is actually very beneficial. The problem usually occurs when we would like to unite a larger number of sonic tools: for example metal alloy bowls with crystal (amorphic glass) bowls and use them together at once. If the sets are not correctly matched big chances are, that the combination tones among the tools will not be working in a efficient “Harmonius” way.This will result in not only a dissonant sound but also in a “weird sensation” that will accompany the “dissonance”. Therefore my advice would be: try to see the “Big picture” in advance, hence start building your sonic arsenal in a MODULAR way – a sort of LEGO. In that way each additional element will be an “Added value” to your set-up, rather than just an “additional STANDALONE tool”. Obviously this is not always possible, as some tools they come “as they come” and is very little we can do about adjusting their performance to your current tool collection.