Archive for October, 2016

Strikers, mallets, batons and wands

October 25, 2016


The things you play a singing bowl with are called many things including “that thing.” Generally I refer to them as mallets, unless I’m feeling in a magical mood and then it’s “wands.”

Displayed above is a set of mallets that create a variety of amazing sounds. I have acquired these over a number of years, and the tone each creates is unlike the others.

Just for the record, I have no idea why the photo turned upside down. But after five tries, including rotating the original photo, it’s just going to stay that way.

So, on the left is the cork from a champagne bottle atop a chopstick — what a wonderful culinary combo that creates a fun light ping-y sound to play. Next to it, is a mallet used with crystal bowls for rimming and gonging, but only good for gonging with the metal ones. A piece of PVC (poly-vinyl chloride) piping covered in suede, its hollow quality offers a lovely deep gong sound with the metal bowls, but it’s too light to play the rim well. The red-headed mallet next to it is a wood mallet covered in felt. With felt on a mallet, you can only gong the bowl. Try to play the rim and sound dies, because no friction can occur between the mallet and the bowl: felt acts as a damper to sound. As a gonging instrument, however, it provides a deeper tone than the PVC suede one.

Now, we come to the solid felt ones. If you’ve ever looked inside a piano and seen those great pieces of dense felt, that’s what the heads of these are made of. The white is exposed felt; the red one has a cute little knitted cap like a reggae singer would wear.

A yellow drum or marimba mallet is next, the result of a fun trip to a music store, where I hauled out several bowls and said, “I want a bright sound. Can you help me?” The guy loved the request. He handed me a few to try and watched my reaction. Then he pulled this out and said “I think this will do the trick.” Bingo!

Next are two more even bigger headed, piano felt key mallets — generally for the larger bowls, say 10 inches in diameter or more. Although, the white one can play on 6- to 9-inch bowls. Again, the white one is exposed felt. The one with a red felt cover also has a lead weight in the center of it for even greater depth of sound (yet softer) with the bigger bowls.

The three last black suede topped mallets on the far right show how the size can increase for use from small and medium size bowls with the first one to bigger and bigger bowls. Versatile, these mallets can play both the rim of the bowl with either the wood or suede end as well as offer a softer struck sound with the suede end when gonging the bowl.

Old Bowls, New Bowls

October 8, 2016

People always want to know why the old bowls are so expensive. Maybe, because the genuine ones are over a hundred years old?

But why are they “better” than new bowls? My first responses are: their quality of tone and their ability to sustain sound.

New bowls can have excellent tone quality. That said, the majority of new bowls do not. New bowls are not always an 80/20 bell metal composition of copper and tin. While old bowls can have lots of other metals, as many as 14 some say  (so forget that 7-metal standard), those alloys still allow for the resonance and pitch to be rich and full, not flattened by too much lead for example.

The ability of the bowl to vibrate is what creates its voice. And in order to vibrate, the metal has to be supple and flexible. That’s where copper helps out. Alloyed with tin, also a soft metal, the two gain a stronger bond.

Remember, the miraculous singing that a bowl produces is the result of good ole friction. The wood or leather mallet rubs against the metal, and voila, sound! But only if the metal has music-making qualities, not rigidity. Try a stainless steel mixing bowl, for example. Not so good.

Now, onto the part about how an old bowl sustains sound better than a new one. Both the metal composition and the actual construction of the bowl have significance here. With a bell metal composition (Were you taking notes? That’s an 80/20 copper/tin ratio), the flexibility of the metal itself can allow it to sustain a note. Size also makes a difference. Small bowls have less diameter and depth to work with, so the notes are high and relatively short. The bigger the bowl, the longer the sustain.

I would add that generally, I find, the antique hand-forged bowls maintain notes longer. Cast bowls are more rigid, less pliable, which shortens how long a sound can resonate, and most new bowls are cast. Manufacturing them that way is far cheaper. And new bowls that are hand forged are not always better in their sustaining quality of sound. Again, I believe the metal composition in new bowls is not always in the same proportions as in the antique ones.

So, try old bowls and new bowls. See what resonates with you.


Remuna Bowls 2