Standing bell

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Rin being struck at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

A standing bell or resting bell[1] is an inverted bell, supported from below with the rim uppermost. Such bells are generally bowl-shaped, and exist in a wide variety of sizes, from a few centimetres across to one metre.[1] They are typically used for meditation and religious purposes, as well as for music making and personal enjoyment.


Standing bells are known by a variety of terms in English, and are sometimes referred to as bowls, basins, cups or gongs. Specific terms include prayer bowl,[2] Himalayan bowl, Tibetan bell,[3] rin gong and cup gong.[2] A bell that is capable of producing a sustained musical note may be known as a singing bowl[3] or Tibetan singing bowl.[3]

Contemporary classical music scores use a variety of other names including temple bell, Buddha temple bell, Japanese temple bell, Buddhist bell, campana di templo and cup bell.[4]

In Japan, the name for a bell of the standing type varies between Buddhist sects. It may be called rin (りん),[5] kin[5][1] (磬), dobachi,[1] keisu,[5] kinsu[5] (きんす), sahari[5] or uchinarashi,[5][6] among other things.[5] Large temple bells are sometimes called daikin[5] (大磬), while small versions for a home altar are known as namarin.[5]

The Chinese term qing, which historically referred to a lithophone used in state rituals, has more recently been applied to this type of standing bell.[7] Early Chinese standing bells are called nao.[8]


Types of operation[edit]

Musically, these objects are classified as a type of bell (a bell is a hollow object which has maximum vibration around an open rim. A gong on the other hand has maximum vibration towards the centre).[9] They are usually placed on a pillow, to allow the rim to vibrate freely, though small bells may be held gently in the hand.[2]

They are often played by striking,[10] in which case they sound a bell note as a struck idiophone[9] (Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.242.11).

Alternatively, some bells may be capable of 'singing bowl' operation as a friction idiophone,[10] (Hornbostel–Sachs classification 133.1). In this mode, a wooden mallet sometimes called a puja[4] (typically covered with felt or leather) is rotated around the outside rim to excite continuous vibrations in the bowl by the slip-stick mechanism,[11] the principle being the same as that of water-tuned musical glasses.[10] The volume of the continuous note depends on the speed of the mallet and the force that is applied.[11]

A spouting bowl in use

Singing bowls may be partly filled with water,[10] allowing them to be tuned. A Chinese form known as a spouting bowl has handles which, when rubbed with damp hands, causes water droplets to leap up as a result of standing waves known as Chladni patterns on the water surface.[10] Such bowls are said to have been manufactured from as early as the 5th century BCE.[12]

Japanese rin played as struck idiophone
Japanese rin played as friction idiophone

Vibrational behaviour[edit]

The vibrational behaviour of bowls has been widely studied,[13] both under friction-induced puja excitation[14][4] and also after being struck.[4] In the former case, experiments indicate that bowls exhibit both radial and tangential motion, in concurrent stable and unstable modes.[4] The unstable mode rotates around the bowl at the same angular velocity as the puja, resulting in beating phenomena always being heard, even with a perfectly symmetrical bowl.[4] Rattling or chattering may occur, particularly with harder puja, lower contact forces[15] and greater angular velocity.[11] Studies have also investigated the vibrational behaviour of bowls partly filled with water, and the way in which the resonant response varies with temperature.[13]


Standing bells are used for meditation and religious purposes, as well as for music making and personal enjoyment.[11] They have become popular with music therapists and sound healers, yoga and meditation practitioners.[2]

Religious usage[edit]

In the religious context, standing bells are primarily associated with Buddhist meditation and chanting, although they are also used in Taoist practices.[16] In Chinese Buddhist temples the chanting of prayers may be punctuated by the striking of a qing, typically a hammered bronze bowl between 10 and 15 cm in diameter. The qing is usually paired with a muyu (wood block).[7] In Japanese temples, the rin is used along with a rei (a small hand bell), and two percussion instruments: an orugoru (a set of small gongs) and a kei (a stone or metal plate). The rin is also used household worship[6][17]. Buddhist ritual makes no use of the 'singing' mode of bell operation.[18]

Use in music[edit]

Standing bells/bowls are called for in several contemporary music scores, including Philipe Leroux's Les Uns (2001); John Cage/Lou Harrison's Double Music (1941); Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques (1955/6); Taverner's Total Eclipse (1999); Tan Dun Opera's Marco Polo (1995); and Joyce Bee Tuan Koh's (1997).[4]. In Japan they are also used in Kabuki theatre.[5]

A 1968 reference mentions the celuring-set, said at the date of writing to have been a rare instrument found only in the central Javanese principalities. This consisted of a large ornate frame, on top of which was mounted a set of bronze half-coconut-shaped bowls which were struck with a small iron bar.[19]

Use for alternative healing[edit]

Metallic singing bowls are used in sound therapy.[13] The modern popularity of the so-called Tibetan bowls for alternative healing may derive from the theories of Hans Jenny (1904–1972), and his studies of modal vibration that he called Cymatics.[20]

Origins and history[edit]

There is some evidence that the metal bell originated in China,[21] with the earliest known Shang dynasty (16th-11th centuries BCE) bells being among the oldest bronze objects found in China.[21] Early bronze standing bells called nao[8] embody some of the highest technical skills of Chinese civilisation and represent the earliest known form of chiming bell.[22] Taking the shape of hollow-stemmed[23] goblets with a curved rim, nao were made in sizes varying between 8 and 50 cm. They were mounted on their stem, with rim uppermost, and struck on the outside with a mallet.[22][8] Nao from southern China were produced as single specimens, while in the north they were produced in chimed sets of three.[22] Some were constructed such that striking at two different points would produce different ringing tones.[22]

Bronze bells of substantial size were being cast in China at least as early as the 13th-11th centuries BCE, and the spread of Buddhism in the 2nd-7th centuries CE gave new impetus to the production of large bells for use in rituals. Chinese tradition was, however, unique in that bells were made not only from Bronze but also from cast-iron. Many are difficult to date, but the Field Museum in Chicago holds two dated Chinese Ming dynasty standing bells: a white cast iron bowl made from a four-part mould of 1591 and a two-part bronze bowl of 1563.[24]

The objects often now referred to as "Tibetan singing bowls", and marketed as Tibetan ritual instruments, have been called "dharma products" that are in fact neither Tibetan nor ritual in origin; rather, they come from northern India or Nepal.[25] Some writers suggest that such bowls were originally used for food,[25] while others consider that to be unlikely, pointing out that there would be no reason for food bowls to be manufactured with relatively thick rims and with great attention paid to their acoustic properties.[26][20]

Although it is sometimes stated that ‘Tibetan singing bowls’ date back to a pre-Buddhist, shamanic Bon-Po tradition of the region, the manufacture and use of bowls specifically for the purpose of ’singing’ (as opposed to standing bells/bowls that are intended to be struck) is believed to be a modern phenomenon.[20] The historical records and accounts of the music of Tibet are silent about singing bowls. Such bowls are not mentioned by Perceval Landon (a visitor in 1903-1904) in his notes on Tibetan music, nor by any other visitor. Likewise, though ringing and clanging sounds were noted by missionaries interested in traditional Tibetan healing practices, they make no mention of singing bowls.[20]

Manufacture and composition[edit]

Singing Bowls
Singing bowl with wooden striker

Most standing bells are manufactured substantially of bell metal (an alloy of copper and tin), sometimes with impurities or additions.

It is sometimes stated that singing bowls are 'traditionally' made of an alloy consisting of various metals, often seven, each associated with a heavenly body. Those commonly mentioned are gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin and lead.[20][18] Singing bowls are also sometimes said to incorporate meteoritic iron.[20] Some modern 'crystal' bowls are made of re-formed crushed synthetic crystal.[20]

The usual manufacturing technique for standing bells was to cast the molten metal followed by hand-hammering into the required shape.[18] Modern bells/bowls may be made in that way, but may also be sand cast followed by machine-lathing.

The finished article is often decorated with an inscription such as a message of goodwill[1], or with decorative motifs such as rings, stars, dots or leaves. Bowls from Nepal sometimes include an inscription in the Devanagari script.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d e Blades, James (1992). Percussion Instruments and their History. London; NY: Kahn & Avril (UK); Pro/AM Music Resources (US). pp. 131–132. ISBN 0-933224-61-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d Kalani (2008). All about Hand Percussion: Everything You Need to Know to Start Playing Now!. np: Alfred publishing Co. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978 0 7390 4964 8. 
  3. ^ a b c Jansen, Eva Rudy (1992). Singing Bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Diever, Holland: Bikkley Kok. pp. XI. ISBN 90-74597-01-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Inácio, Octávio; Henrique, Luís L; Antunes, José (2006). "The Dynamics of Tibetan Singing Bowls". Acta Acustica united with Acustica. 92 (4): 637–638. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1984). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Macmillan Press. p. 431. ISBN 0-333-37878-4. 
  6. ^ a b Malm, William P (1959). Japanese Music & Musical Instruments. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E Tuttle. pp. 68–69. 
  7. ^ a b Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1984). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Macmillan Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-333-37878-4. 
  8. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2006-09-28. "Zhong". Retrieved 2017-12-03. 
  9. ^ a b Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1984). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-37878-4. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Grove Music Online: Singing water bowl". Oxford Music Online. Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Retrieved 19 November 2017. 
  11. ^ a b c d Collin, Samantha R; Keefer, Chloe L & Moore, Thomas R (16–19 September 2015). "The Etiology of Chatter in the Himalayan Singing Bowl" (PDF). Proceedings of the Third Vienna Talk on Music Acoustics. “Bridging the Gaps”. Vienna: University of Music and Performing Arts: 120–123. 
  12. ^ Jansen, Eva Rudy (1992). Singing Bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Diever, Holland: Bikkley Kok. p. 20. ISBN 90-74597-01-7. 
  13. ^ a b c Wijesiriwardana, R (1 May 2017). "Resonance Frequency Variations of Metallic Tibetan Singing Bowl with Temperature" (PDF). Proceedings of 54th IASTEM International Conference. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 
  14. ^ Young, Diana; Essel, Georg (2003-06-22). "HyperPuja: a Tibetan Singing Bowl controller". Proceedings of the 2003 conference on New interfaces for musical expression. Montreal, Canada: National University of Singapore. 
  15. ^ Inácio, Octávio; Henrique, Luís L; Antunes, José (2006). "The Dynamics of Tibetan Singing Bowls". Acta Acustica united with Acustica. 92 (4): 652–653. 
  16. ^ Herman, Jonathan R (2013). Taoism for Dummies. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-118-42396-7. 
  17. ^ Price, Percival (1983). "Introduction". Bells & Man. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0193181038. 
  18. ^ a b c Jansen, Eva Rudy (1992). Singing Bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Diever, Holland: Bikkley Kok. pp. 23–25. ISBN 90-74597-01-7. 
  19. ^ Kunst, Jaap (1968). Hindu-Javanese Musical Instruments (2nd ed.). The Hague: Matinus Nijhoff. pp. 50–53. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Gioia, Ted (2006). Healing Songs. Durham and London: Duke University Pres. pp. 149–151. 
  21. ^ a b Price, Percival (1983). Bells & Man. Oxford University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0193181038. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Nao Bell". Kimbell Art Museum. Retrieved 2017-12-03. 
  23. ^ "About this artwork: Bell (nao), Western Zhou dynasty (1046 - 771 B.C.)". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2017-12-11. 
  24. ^ Rostoker, William; Bronson, Bennet; Dvorak, James (1984). "The Cast-Iron Bells of China". Technology and Culture. 25 (4): 750–767. doi:10.2307/3104621. 
  25. ^ a b Brauen, Martin (2004). Dreamworld Tibet : Western Illusions. Translated by Willson, Martin. Bangkok: Orchid Press. pp. 202–203, 240. ISBN 974-524-051-6. 
  26. ^ Perry, Frank (2015). The Complete Book of Singing Bowls: Himalayan sound revelations. New Delhi: Adarsh Books. p. 104. ISBN 9788183631204. 
  27. ^ Jansen, Eva Rudy (1992). Singing Bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Diever, Holland: Bikkley Kok. pp. 31–33. ISBN 90-74597-01-7.