How to Choose A Singing Bowl

Singing Bowls

When struck or stroked around the rim, singing bowls produce a sound that is rich in harmonics. This sound has a penetrative effect on the human body, reaching as deep as our bones and cells.

Often called Tibetan or Himalayan bowls, singing bowls are also produced in Buhtan, India, Cambodia, Burma, Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Korea and Japan. Although many people believe that singing bowls are Buddhist in origin, it is likely that they pre-date Buddhism. Some, including the Dalai Lama, believe that they originated with a pre-Buddhist sect in Nepal and were used for fire-worship ceremonies. However, the finest bowls are said to have been produced in Tibet between 450 and 350 BCE.

Singing bowls have been used for meditation, healing, ritual and as aids for spiritual practice for centuries and they are still used for these purposes today.

Acquiring a Singing Bowl

Antique or Modern?

Singing bowls tend to bring out strong and polarising opinions. This makes it confusing for people who would like to acquire their first bowl, so I’m going to try to objectively consider the subject as best I can.

The bad news is that, according to singing bowl expert, Frank Perry, the finest bowls were in produced in Tibet between 450 and 350 BCE. The chances of getting your hands on one of these is pretty much nil. 

I have heard stories of exceptional antique singing bowls that have supernatural qualities and I don’t doubt that some of these stories are true. The chances of getting your hands on one of these is also pretty much nil.

So, if you were thinking of buying an antique singing bowl, then you’ll have to pay a hefty premium for one. You’ll also have to be ok with being swindled, because, although there are genuine and honest dealers out there, many bowls that are sold as antique these days are not. Unscrupulous modern makers loan out bowls to be used and abused by locals until they have an antique appearance. Don’t be fooled!

The good news is that your singing bowl doesn’t need to be antique to be any good. The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) has carried out extensive metal testing on antique and modern bowls and they tell us that ALL handmade bowls, regardless of age, are made from bell metal bronze (copper with a high concentration of tin).1 It makes sense: this alloy has been the metal of choice for bells for the last 3000 years. 

Some bowls may indeed have additional elements added to them, but stories about genuine bowls containing seven metals are just that – stories. 

This rather levels the playing field. 

BAST also found that modern machined singing bowls are made from brass (copper and zinc). So, maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is not so much the age of the bowl, but how it was made? A machined bowl isn’t going to contain bell metal bronze, so at first glance, isn’t going to have the resonance of the handmade bowls. 

But, even then, its not so simple. I got my first singing bowl in 1997 and for many years it was my only bowl. It was sold to me as an antique, but looking at it now with more knowledge about these things, I can clearly see that it was made on a modern machine. The thing is, though, even though I was duped, it is still a great sounding bowl. 

For me, the sound of the bowl and the effect that sound has on the listener is the ONLY criteria we should be interested in when choosing our singing bowls. So, I’m happy to play modern bowls – handmade or machined – if they do the job. And that’s the thing. Some bowls are great, others are nasty. If you want to get hold of a bowl, you absolutely have to try them first. Look and listen for the following:

  • Can it produce a smooth sustained tone when played along the rim?
  • Does it have a sustain?
  • Does it have the distinctive wah or wobble to the sound?
  • Does it have a discernible fundamental tone and 2 or more overtones?
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY What effect does it have on you? Choose the one you are most attracted to. But bear in mind that bowls that make us feel uncomfortable can sometimes have more of a healing effect than bowls with purely pleasant sounds. Go with your intuition as to what is needed.

Does the pitch of the bowl matter?

No. Forget the sales pitch that bowls tuned to certain notes resonate certain chakras. There is no such thing. Everyone’s chakras resonate differently and even if they did happen to match the notes of the C major scale, which one of the 12 cents tuning of a single pitch are we talking about? The seven swaras, or notes of the major scale may “symbolise” the chakras, but that is not the same thing as matching them in frequency.

The only time when pitch may be something to consider is if you intend to play singing bowl “concerts” and in this case, you may like to have bowls that produce harmonious intervals together. Again, the proof of this is in your ears.

Have fun listening and choosing and remember, some bowls stay and some bowls move on, so you are not necessarily making a purchase for life. The only certainty is that your first bowl won’t be your last.

1 A small percentage of bowls tested – less than 1% – contained a small amount of iron, about 1% iron.

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