One of the most exciting things about exploring instruments from around the globe is how completely unique and different they are. Shapes, sizes, materials and manner of playing instruments vary from culture to culture or from country to country. One great example of an unusual instrument is a bronze or metal bowl from the region of Tibet, Nepal or Northern India. Called “singing bowls”, these instruments date back to the dawn of the bronze age – about 3,000 years ago – and are pictured in some of the oldest artifacts found in this region.
But can a bowl really sing? These specially crafted metal bowls do create beautiful tones when they are struck gently with a mallet or when pressure is applied to their sides in a circular motion. In the same way that a water glass creates a ringing tone when rubbed with a finger, these bowls ring out in tones that are considered to be relaxing, meditative and even healing or therapeutic by many. The beautiful and complex sounds they create is the reason they are said to “sing”.
How big are singing bowls? You can find smaller singing bowls that fit in the palm of your hand. You can also find sizes and shapes that are as big as a large soup pot or a cauldron! In addition, there are also crystal bowls that are played in the same manner as the metal singing bowls. These are especially beautiful in sound and appearance and many believe that they possess even greater healing properties.
Singing bowls can be very simple and plain or they can be beautifully adorned with symbols and writing such as Buddhist mantras, a type of repeated prayer. Commonly manufactured in Nepal, China and Japan; singing bowls can be found as part of Buddhist prayers and meditation throughout Asia, as well as part of yoga or spiritual practices around the world.
Singing bowls are also used in classrooms in a variety of different ways. They can help students focus, call for quiet or can help a class develop better listening skills. Timothy Lomas, a talented art teacher with a good deal of international experiences shared this description of his work: “I teach art at the IDEAL School of Manhattan. It is an inclusion school which means that we have students with special needs (Down Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, etc) alongside typically developing students. Transition time is always a challenge. To get the students settled and ready to work I introduced the Tibetan Singing Bowl. I demonstrated how to use it and passed it to the student that was the quietest and most attentive. They then would pass it to the next student they thought was ready.” Says Timothy: “I started with one bowl but now have several and the students know to go directly to the box and pull out the bowls. It’s a great way to get the class centered and focused for a creative experience!”