My Thoughts About Gong Tones


(updated 2/17/14)

Working with Gongs as a Meditation & Theraputic Medium

I have come into contact with many different people using Gongs, Singing Bowls, Bells, Tuning Forks, etc. in their sound meditation & healing practices. As varied as the people are, so are their methods. Many people using these instrumentss are not trained drummers/musicians. There is nothing wrong with that. Percussive training is certainly not necessary. But as a trained percussionist myself, I feel that the techniques I've learned facilitate and enhance my approach to these instruments. 

For myself, I use the Gongs in two very distinct ways: 

  • In performance as a concert, featuring music I have composed for Gongs.
  • In a meditation/sound therapy session.

In a concert performance, I use more than 60 instruments, and much of what I do revolves around different techniques and their associated sounds. With the tuned Gongs and Bells, it's also based around melody and harmony. A meditation/sound therapy session, is more about the vibrations. It is a vast soundscape designed to produce specific vibrations & energy.


Gongs in Meditation & Healing


There are various people offering courses in sound healing where you receive a certificate suitable for framing and hanging on your wall. Some of these people are genuine experts with a wealth of true knowledge to offer (see my links page for some of these knowledgable teachers). Some others, that I have reservations about, have told me that people who have not taken their course are doing things wrong, and even doing things so badly that they need to take their course and become certified! 

And today Gongs & Singing Bowls have become very popular, with everyone now buying one. But I must say, that just because you own a Gong or Bowl, doesn't qualify you to call yourself a Gongmaster and hold Gong sessions at your local Yoga studio (just like owning a guitar doesn't qualify you to be a guitar teacher or a rock star). 


I have done my homework


For the past 30+ years, I have done a lot of research and investigation into sound and how it affects us. I have read countless papers, reports, books, interviews, etc.. I have also spoken to, and interviewed, many sound practitioners. Additionally, I have conducted my own research and experiments in sound, and even belonged to a few mystical organizations which offered further instruction on sound & vibrations—so I have done my homework! And I'm still researching and learning more, because there is always more to learn!

yes, I do give lessons and present workshops on sound therapy! But first off, I tell people upfront that there are many ways to achieve the same end, and what I offer is only one way, drawn from my own personal experience and perspective. So rather than teach them a mechanical method that is highly codified and one size fits all, I help them find their own way by giving a variety of ideas and options. I prefer to help people realize their own sound potential.


One only needs to follow the Gong and let it be the teacher


My workshops and lessons are about the possibilities inherent in all of us, about finding a personal direction with the Gong—what works for me may not work for you. So I act more as a guide, or coach, than a teacher. If you open up to the Gong, it will reveal itself and its mysteries to you. Even after over 30 years of playing Gongs, I am still a student, as there is always more to know. 

There is no end, 

no bottom, 

no limits with the Gong. 

~ Singal Rinpoche

That is why I never call myself a Gongmaster. You cannot bestow a title like that upon yourself. In traditional societies, a Shaman is not a Shaman until s/he is perceived that way by their followers. Only their followers can bestow a title, such as Shaman, upon them. It is the same for being a Gongmaster. If others wish to call me that, I am honored, but for myself, I will always be a student of the Gong.


My Personal Method


I am highly claire-sentient. This means that I perceive and process the world through feelings. These feelings are both emotional and physical. I am also clair-audient, meaning that I also perceive and process the world through sound. I also have a form of Autism called Aspergers Syndrome, so my brain & nervous system are wired differently than most. For me, Gongs (and other ringing metals) are the ideal instruments, as I can sense the vibrations on a variety of levels, so to in fact, that I select my instruments by how they affect me personally. While I do not generally see auras, or visions, I do sense what I describe as pressure waves emanating from people and objects. In fact, as a percussionist, I relate to the various instruments by how they feel to me, often more than how they sound!

If you come to more than one of my sessions or workshops, you will notice that they are each different from the other! I have no script or master plan that I follow. While I do have specific sound ideas/techniques that I use, I may or may not use some of them at a session. In a true jazz fashion, I improvise. What I do do, is take in the feelings/vibes of each session—the participants, the room, the weather, anything that presents itself—and I use that information to determine what course to take. I may concentrate more on one instrument than another merely because it feels right at the time. 

Many Gong practitioners use one or two Gongs. The question has come up as to why I use so many (usually 5-12, or more)? There is nothing wrong with using a single Gong, or 2 Gongs, and many people do excellent work that way. I just happen to perceive things in perhaps more broader terms and prefer to have more sound options available. I may even bring a Gong and not use it at all if I don't feel some sort of connection with its vibrations at that moment. 


Chakras/Colors/Tones


It has become popular here in the Western world to assign our ways and values to the ancient Chakra and other energy systems. In this matter I defer to the great Frank Perry, who has written a wonderful essay on this here (look for the essay PONDERING THE REALM OF HEALING WITH SOUND)

Just to add a bit of my own feelings to this, I have always preferred the sounds that are in between what we perceive as harmonious, or in tune. Perhaps that is why I feel so attracted to percussion, because other than the mallet instruments, percussion deals more with pure sound than any system of melody/harmony. For example, I use a 28" Paiste Planet Jupiter Gong, which is tuned to F#2 (183.58 Hz) which is said to be in the color spectrum of red. This would match up closely with the Root Chakra, which is said to be the note G at 194.18 Hz and the color red. To say that the Jupiter Gong will only affect Root Chakra issues, is to me, short sighted. I personally feel that things are fluid, and any tone/note can affect any Chakra at a given time. The important thing is determining which tone/note is needed at the present moment. Sometimes it's a combination of tones that creates the right vibrations to release blocked energy.

Another aspect of the Gongs is that they also produce a wide array of harmonics. So while the Jupiter is tuned to a fundamental note of F#2, there are a myriad of harmonic tones also present, which give the Gong its characteristic sound. These harmonics can also have a great affect on the body and its energy systems. Himalayan Singing Bowls, which are ritual objects often used for healing, produce multiple fundamental notes with many harmonics. In fact, different notes will present themselves depending on how the Gong/bowl is played, and what type of mallet/wand is used. Then there is the combination of tones from multiple Gongs and/or bowls, that will produce further tones. Bells are another thing. While they tend to have a much more focused and predominant pych, they also have various harmonics/tones that can be brought out with different mallets and playing techniques.

The science of Church Bell making is very detailed as to shape/fundamental, and partial tones. The sound of most metal percussion, while often perceived as a single note/tone, is a complex weave of tones. If you are interested in some very indepth writing on bell making and the related science of harmonics and waveforms, please check out Australian Bell.


Perception is Everything


In the end, what matters most is how you feel about any given sound/tone/vibration.  

Does the sound affect you in a positive way? 

Does it help you move through, or past some sort of trauma or blockage? 

Any sound can affect you differently on different days. What's important, is that there is a sound for you in the moment. What the specific note/frequency is, is not the most important factor. What effect it has on you is.

My ideas and methods may not align with your needs. And that's OK. You should always check out practitioners and teachers to see if what they offer aligns with your own spirit and values.

~ MB

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