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Sheila Whittaker
Category: Gong Work

Gong Volume

Volume is somethingthat has been coming up a lot lately in my workshops, and in questions from mystudents. It’s an interesting and sometimes tricky subject, and one that reallyneeds to be put out there for discussion. So I’m going to tackle it here.

Many of the gongs Iuse are large high quality gongs made principally by the Paiste company, aswell as the Broder Oetken and Meinl gongs (also made by Broder). By large, Imean most of the gongs at my workshops will be over 32” in diameter, and someare up to 40”. We do of course use smaller gongs too. The large gongs are,therefore, capable of enormous volumes of sound. There is a huge amount ofpower in a large gong. However, I never use the full volume of a large gong –bringing it right up to “the flame” (white noise) - it just is not necessary. Irarely take the sound over 70% of the volume that the gong is capable of. Occasionally– only once during a course – I may demonstrate to my students bringing thevolume up to the flame, or almost, so that they know how it feels. It is a verysacred and profound experience, and not to be done lightly, or for showy ortheatrical effect – that’s just not appropriate. The gong is an ancient sacredhealing instrument capable of enormous healing power, and needs to be treatedwith respect and reverence at all times, befitting its status. In all the yearsI have been playing, I have probably used the flame in performance or gongbathsituations maybe only 6 times, when it felt right.

We just don’t needto use the whole volume of a large gong – a symphonic for instance - which hasthe broadest range of tones. If the gong is played sensitively and well –building up the layers of sound gradually and allowing the gong sound toblossom in its own way and time - we will have copious layers of healing overtonesand harmonics produced without needing to bring the volume up high. It’s all inthe way the gong is played. We can do great healing work at lower volumes, ifwe play it in the right way and with a respectful attitude, gradually coaxingout the layers of sound. A slow build-up can be incredibly powerful anddramatic if it is done gradually over several minutes or longer. Waves ofrising and falling sound can be produced in this way too. Obviously we need acertain amount of volume in order to achieve the many layers of sound that canbe brought out of the gong by sensitive playing, but it should not be overdone.Taking time to build up the sound and bring in the many layers is a skill, andone which does not come overnight. It takes practise, and we get better at itthe more we do. And we always need to remember that the gong is in charge – weare just there facilitating. The gong is not to be played from the ego – thatallows no room for the natural flow which happens spontaneously when we let thegong lead us. The gong produces the sounds that are needed, and rarely, ifever, will the gong need to be brought up to anything like full volume. If doneinsensitively or suddenly, this can be shocking and traumatic.

The size of thespace we are using, and the proximity of the attendees, also needs to be takeninto account when discussing volume. If you are playing outside for instance,higher volumes are necessary as the sound has a larger space to fill – aninfinite one in fact. In a large inside space, like a concert hall or church,higher volumes are needed to fill the space. Conversely, in a small insidespace more care is needed, so as not to overwhelm those listening with too muchsound. If your client is placed right next to the gongs, even more care isrequired, especially near the head and ears. And with new clients who haven’texperienced the gongs before (always ask before starting if anyone is new tothe gong), more care is needed. Sensitivity and adapting to the situation isthe key.

Just a word aboutplaying the gong in the centre. To me (and this is only my personal take onthis subject – others may have a different view) the centre is the heart of thegong, and is hallowed ground – a sacred space. I rarely play in the centre forthis reason, and feel it’s not really appropriate. The main playing area – on aPaiste gong this is the scraped part, and the rim - offer ample opportunitiesto make a hugely varied range of sounds (also using a variety of mallets)without needing to play in the centre.

I hope that’s beenof some help and answered some of the questions that have come up about thisvery important topic of gong volume.

Sheila Whittaker 22.9.15


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