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The Short and Remarkable History of Sounding Bowls

The Short and Remarkable

Historyof Sounding Bowls

Updated April 2012 from Caduceus magazine, June 2009


What is a Sounding Bowl?

Sounding Bowls are round wooden stringed instruments with the strings inside. Intentionally a bridge between sculpture and music, their form is a balance between visual beauty and musical function.They may vary in string numbers from one to many, have no frets and are played on open strings, these are typically bronze wound steel guitar style strings.Tuning is by thumb-key to variety of scales or modes selectable by the user.


Unique in World Music

I First made a Sounding Bowl in1986 and as copyright holder am still the sole maker worldwide, Sounding Bowls are identified by expert historians as unique in world music, principally because the strings pass within the resonant space. Still under continuous development, six separate types have emerged as meeting the needs of users. The original idea for the instrument arose as an image during meditation whose intended subject was unconnected with the questions about sound in sacred form that I had been working on. A number of Sounding Bowls are used by performers, a few are in private and public art collections but the majority of the 350 made to date (April 2012) are in therapeutic use.


Sounding Bowls in Therapeutic Use

Placements can be divided into state run institutions in various countries and smaller private clinics around the world.

Britain’s National Health Service(NHS) employs only qualified Music Therapists who are registered with the Health Professions Council.  Music Therapy is common now in community, child, adolescent and forensic psychiatric settings, palliative care hospices, learning disabilities services and within schools and special educational settings.

An important aspect of musictherapy is the non-verbal communication in which the therapist may attune and help the patient to safely access and work through emotions when making music.In this way feelings may be safely felt even if the issues are too painful to talkabout. This is a skilled art and the power of music is such that if notcarefully moderated emotional overload can occur. Clients often have a perception that they are “not musical” or they may have negative memories of school music.Careful consideration is given in how to introduce people to the instruments when they may have no prior musical experience.

Feedback from such placements has from the very first in1991 been extraordinary. Phrases like “…no other instrument has produced such results” and “I can no longer imagine working without it” became commonplace, along with “I can’t get the staff to put it down, let alone the patients”.

In special education the specific most valuable assethas been that children who take no interest in their environment will frequently take an interest in a Sounding Bowl. Numerous therapists have written or spoken to me to say that young clients who, over several sessions were extremely hard to engage then took a spontaneous interest in a Sounding Bowl.

In hospice care the feedback has centred around lifting a mood and making contact. Specific reports have included eliciting response from a patient in coma. While slipping into coma the patient had continued to respond to the therapist’s song but once deeper the only thingthat elicited change in expression, breathing or movement was the sound of a SoundingBowl. Other feedback specifics have been about rapid exit from deep depression in a hospice patient. Typical feedback centres around an ability to makemeaningful contact with patients that had previously chosen not to engage (evenup to a 100% turnaround); Involving family (who are often too frightened by the whole process surrounding the dying of a loved one to engage with the loved one themselves); and opening hearts in a deeper way than other instruments have succeeded in doing.

Hospice chaplains have alsosometimes chosen to keep astounding Bowl in the chapel where it seems to assistsome people in finding some of that inner peace that can be so hard to find atthis point in life.

In psychiatric treatment the focus has been ontouch in combination with sound. The shape of a Sounding Bowl combined with thetones being felt in the wood seems to encourage patients to hold the instrumentclosely, even cuddle it, seeming to evokefeelings of comfort and care, often unspoken needs of struggling patients”as a music therapist in Sweden put it. Particularly strong feedback has comefrom the work of StellaCompton Dickinson in forensic psychiatric treatment settings. Stella is Clinical Research Lead: Arts Therapies forNottinghamshire Health Care Trust and works withadolescent boys, with women in medium secure treatment and in high securetreatment with adults who have severe and enduring mental illness, or severepersonality disorders and who have committed offences. This is an extremelydifficult area of work which demands robust standards of training and personaldevelopment. Positive results have come from a balanced application oftechniques in carefully controlled clinical settings. Stella explains that no single instrument ortechnique is without potential contra-indications and inappropriate methods canrisk re-activation of old traumas. “Sounding Bowlshave become core essentials to the work”, accelerating the building oftrusting therapeutic relationship and the patients’ ability to expressthemselves musically. Stellamaintains that the Sounding Bowl facilitates “a connection and a depth ofwork that is unique and quite often not possible with other instruments.”She is a leading therapist in this field and is now developing research inwhich she is recommending the use of the Sounding Bowl as a central resource ina music therapy treatment protocol. She says … the Sounding Bowl continues tohave beneficial effects in emotional regulation when other instruments have notmade an impact.”On first acquiring one for her department she wrote to say. “I am deeply moved by the impact of ‘Sheila the Healer’ as our clients have christened theSounding Bowl. ‘She’ has taken the therapy into dimensions beyond formal musictherapy and into that of Vibrational healing; The tactile and aestheticqualities as well as the  sheer beauty of the sound and of the instrument itself have led to deeper levels of emotional engagement than were previously possible. This really helps to facilitate the therapeutic process”

During 2011 Stella Compton Dickinson conducted a Patient Select Clinical Trial at Rampton Hospital and is publishing a report showing clear indications of results from Sounding Bowl use better than any other instrument. Rampton and some other forensic psychiatric care institutes are now beginning to build on this work.

Work with all age groups hasregularly underlined the unique value and importance of this remarkableinstrument for deep psychological healing, even in cases where movement of thecondition may have reached a plateau years ago.

A collected report from atherapist in Gloucestershire working with both teenagers with multiplechallenges including behavioural difficulties and with adults with severelearning difficulties is available on the Sounding Bowls website. ZambodhiSchlossmacher is a Eurythmy, movement therapist but finds that the SoundingBowl is now occupying the great majority of her working time because of thevaluable effects it has with the clients.

All of these above comments come from work undertaken bytrained therapists within a controlled clinical setting and it should not bepresumed that the mere possession of a Sounding Bowl will replicate the results.


Sounding Bowls in Healing Use

Healers of various persuasionsalso use Sounding Bowls. Feedbackhere has been varied but all positive. Some have spoken of a ‘Being’ thataccompanies Sounding Bowls at allstages, both in their making and in their use assisting healing and developmentat all stages. Others have described White Light pouring out of a Sounding Bowlover assembled mediators  bringing individual healing, and telling howthis sight was confirmed by independent witness. Descriptions of the effectsinclude frequent references to opening all the chakras at once and visiblesound flowing down through them.

Meditants and self-healers aretypically more shy about specific feedback yet some have described new groundin meditation being opened up or steps taken in self healing as part of a widerset of initiatives.

Feedback from such work showsgood results not dependant on clinical settings but coming from “ordinary”people achieving extra-ordinary results for themselves and for others.


Reliable results?

The scientist in us wants to seereal results based analyses and tends to believe that if a machine confirmsthese results we are on to something. But it is also important that we use ourown personal senses, and do not rely on external authority to tell us what ishealthy and what is not. One does not need a machine to confirm the real andvisible changes Sounding Bowls cantrigger. It is extremely common to notice that a person takes a deep breath onfirst sight of one,  or each time one is put into their hands. It is alsocommon for their face to flush and their eyes sparkle. These are commonlyunderstood as simple physiological evidence of good health and their appearancecan signal the beginning of a change towards health of body or mind/soul.

The movement of the blood fromthe heart to the periphery and back, then from the heart to the lungs and backis the basis of life and health in the body. These two circulations cross inthe heart. That this movement is intimately related to, deeply influenced byhow we think and feel is now well documented. It may be seen without controlledlaboratory conditions how enthusiasm influences warmth and how we may blushwhen our emotions are touched. It is not rocket science to equate our fearswith a damping down of our breathing and circulation and to see that anythingthat allows these two more freedom and depth results in increased health of bodyand mind.

That sound and music can be usedin helping people to get well and have an influence on this level as well as ondeeper levels is now clear. The best way to apply these tools remains aquestion. Quite apart from any clinical trials Sounding Bowls have been part of, for many people it becomes even moreinteresting when a high proportion of highly trained and experiencedprofessionals say they can no longer imagine working without a Sounding Bowl.This is clearly considered by some as of real supplementary value  to anymeasurements of specific changes in bodily matters. In the three specific areasof music therapy described above the professionals are used to gaugingusefulness of a technique through responses in and from the person as awhole,(moods, behaviour, clinical measurements and opinions) and not reducing theirmeasurements of success to one numeric indicator.

For me the crisis we face in ourpresent time is connected with our relationship with matter and spirit and thesoul element that flows between them. This has been variously characterised asconcern for the whole rather than the parts; attention to the quality ratherthan the quantity; or awakening to the causal elements of reality. The problemlies in this conundrum: That the very nature of spirit is that it cannot bedefined, set against this; Our definition based, scientific approach tounderstanding the world has proven very fruitful in very many fields. The wayforward must be to appreciate the value of both, to seek repeatable, assessableresults that do not rely purely on numerical definition. A new approach formost of us, yet a practice already inherent in some fields where an acceptancethat some things lie outside definition tends to alienate those seekingquantifiable facts. Statistical analysis has tended to throw a rope bridge overthis divide, yet more is needed. Some sort of bridge between that arts and thesciences that enhances both and damages neither.

Sound healing, like so much elseis accessible to the ‘measure and quantify’ approach. Specific tones, specificwave forms affecting specific parts of the body. Adopting this as the primarymodality seems too similar to the practice of the last hundred years or so,refining active ingredients out of wholeness for a more specific and intenseeffect. This approach has proven records of efficacy but sidesteps that mostdifficult question:

What is health, other than a mere absence of symptoms?

If we really wish to ‘heal intowholeness’ we need to start with an image of the whole human being and allowthat image to guide our progress. Reductionist thinking will only createpartial answers. Sounding Bowls comefrom a world view in which the whole Human Being, Body, Life, Soul and Spiritis an integral part of the spiritual/physical fabric of all existence. Theirrole is to open up possibilities for the human spirit to heal it’s situation onall or any level.


The Making of Sounding Bowls

Fourlevels of making are important to their maker:

*                   The body of the Sounding Bowl is madefrom wood carefully selected from local trees. Only certain parts of certainspecies have the potential to resound as required. Local trees have relationshipto local people that rainforest woods do not.

*                   The form of the Sounding Bowl arosethrough careful searching for shapes that combined opposing aspects such asvisual lightness and visual warmth. An acoustic response was noticed in theseshapes that turned out to relate to sacred geometry, specifically the Fibonaccior Golden spiral. Fibonacci number sequences are the basis of all life patterns.A geometrical process of enfolding and unfolding the ‘Golden Spirals’ thatresult from these numbers shows a match with the curves that gave resonantresponse. There is also a known relationship of  these curves with amplificationof sound, reflected in their use in wind instruments, pre-electrical hearingaids etc. Fibonacci number sequences and their related curves are also anintegral part of the human body. Every limb, the chambers of the heart, thecurve of muscle movement are all related to these fundamental patterns and theeye perceives as beautiful shapes such as the sunflower, seashell and Greektemple that are also formed from these sequences. The strings pass through theinside.

*                   The process of making a Sounding Bowl is notindustrialised. Every major part is carefully hand made in a workshop wherework is a process that honours the moment as much as the result and does notdamage one in pursuit of the other. One might equate this with the soul of theinstrument. Accomplished musicians are mostly aware of a ‘Being’ nature totheir instruments and regard music making as a co-operative exercise, mostmakers of high end wooden musical instruments practice a balance betweenprocess and result, ultimately this makes work a form of worship which in turnopens the door to…

*                   Spirit, that indefinable element thatmay or may not choose to accept an opened door and abide in the space. In thiscase the space around a Sounding Bowl. I know no other way of understanding theextraordinary effects that Sounding Bowlsare reported to have than to consider that healers may be describing a realityof some sort when they report the presence of a Being seen as supportive ofboth the maker/making process and the player/healing process.


There may of course be specificfrequencies involved,  there may be some relationships between beingexposed to sound that has been amplified through growth-pattern Fibonaccispirals and growth processes in the brain, heart or neurological system,possibly assisting in re-growth of trauma wounded subtle pathways, I do notknow. There may be any number of such quantifiable relationships but to my mindthey are part of a process and we will not understand the horse by analysingit’s hairs. If there is a future for the Human as Being, if there is to be afuture for the social organism of Humanity I believe we need to start feedingthe horse and learning to ride it in place of merely defining it’s parts.


Some Possible Reasons for HealingEffects

There are specific factors that could be connected with theremarkable, instant reaction that so many (not all) people experience with Sounding Bowls.

One lies in how sound from anopen reflecting amplifiers experienced. Most stringed instruments have a ‘box’amplifier. Guitars, violins, even the harp have closed resonant chambers toincrease sound levels. Sounding Bowlsachieve amplification purely on the resonant properties of the curve. Thismeans that the sound is greater in front of theinstrument than behind. There is a specific area in which the sound is moststrongly heard. One can move ones head this way and that in front of theinstrument and, even with no string sounding one can hear ones voice, orenvironmental sound reflected into ones ears. Moving attentively one can findedges to this area and map out a sort of bud-shape in front of the instrumentwithin which the sound is most noticeable. The key thing is that any soundreflected in this space is beautified. Passing cars are less harsh, the humanvoice becomes musical, hearing one’s own breathing becomes a tender experience.My feeling is that this experience, mostly happening unconsciously is onefactor in opening the heart and assisting healing. Part of a traumatised stateis experiencing oneself as negative. The Sounding Bowl feeds back a positiveexperience of self through subtle sounds and confirms that experience bysurprising people with how easily they can make music. The sound of Sounding Bowls has been described by top stringperformers as “As close to the ideal of a plucked string sound as I have everheard” and strikes all hearers with it’s pure and gentle tone. Combine thiswith their beautiful shape, (the circle and the pure straight line of tensedstring are also sacred forms) to find factors that may contribute to the remarkablehealing effects reported from Sounding Bowls.


Contact the maker, Tobias Kaye at:

The Sounding Bowl Workshop,

11 Lower Dean,

Buckfastleigh, Devon.

TQ11 0LS,


Telephone international 0044 136464 28 37  

or inland  01364 642837

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