This Is A Lifelong Evolution

Instant gratification

We admittedly live in an era of instant gratification. With the internet, we have an instant connection to more information than anytime in history. Cell phones, tablets, computers—they all contact us to the world at large.

One of the advantages of this global communication is that we can take a lot of short cuts to get to where we want to be. If something breaks in my house, I can usually find a video on YouTube™ that will show me how to repair it. I don't have to study for years to become some sort of mechanic to fix it. But this also means that because I can watch and follow YouTube™ videos, that I'm NOT a qualified mechanic or repairman. 

Yes, I can follow a video for simple repairs. 

No, I can't just open something up, know what's wrong with it, and fix it.

Amateur vs Professional

As with anything in life, there is a process of learning you need to follow.

I see this in the Gong/Singing Bowl/Sound Healing area. Many people watch a few videos, play t…

Gong Player vs Listener

I think it's important for all Gong and Bowl players to understand how the people at their sessions perceive the sounds and vibrations. It's often extremely different than how the player perceives things.

Frequencies & Wave Forms

One important idea is that the player is right there in front of the instruments. This can create a sort of proximity effect, especially with larger Gongs. With a very large Gong, you may be standing right in front of it, but the lower frequencies are not opening up until they are past you. One thing to do is to strike your Gong, or have someone else strike it, and back up slowly from it. Notice how the sound changes as you move away, not just in decreasing volume, but in frequency. Listen for hot spots where a certain low frequency jumps out.

I experienced a great example of this when I played for the grand opening of the Memphis Gong Chamber. In the main room, they have a beautiful 84" Paiste Symphonic Gong. I was able to isolate multiple hot …

Cracking/Breaking Gongs

This comes from a Facebook percussion group I'm in. Apparently it was either an outdoor marching band or drum corps show:
“Kid cracked a gong on the first hit of our show Saturday because he didn’t warm it up. Of course. It’s a decent sized crack, and we don’t have $1000 laying around to buy a new one. Is there any easy way to fix it? It's a Zildjian gong, idk how big, I'm going to GUESS 40"? It's cracked right at the edge of the gold ring and the outer ring, and it's about 4 inches long. The mallet we're using is not that hard and should not have done that kind of damage.”
Without actually having been there, or seeing the Gong in person (apparently it was a Chinese Chou Gong), I can only speculate on this, but my first impression is that the kid overplayed the Gong by hitting it way too hard. Playing outdoors is difficult, because the sound dissipates quickly. There are no walls or ceilings to create reflections and contain the sound. Outside, you play some…

Finding Your Voice

No one picks up an instrument for the first time and produces a fully formed, unique style of playing. Often our first moves are tentative, hesitant, and not quite understood by ourselves. To play Gongs, Bowls, and Bells presents us with unlimited possibilities for sounds, but to the novice, most of these sounds are unknown. And even if they are known, the novice has not yet developed the ear, the sense of touch, the required skills to makes many of the sounds they hear others produce.

Michael Bettine (L) & Mike Tamburo (R) finding their own voices
So where do you start?

There are 2 basic ways to start:

1 - Explore your instruments. Makes sounds, take chances, see what both you and the instrument are capable of. Do this in private so that there is no need to feel embarrassed or inadequate. This is a time of learning. Keep track of the sounds you make and how you made them, because you want to be able to repeat them in the future. 

Also keep track of what sounds you find pleasing/positi…

Adjusting Your Sound To Fit The Space

I have seen/heard some people who seem to play their Gongs at the same intense volume no matter where they are playing. Small room, medium room, large room—they play the same. This also goes for the type of room, whether it's a very lively reverberant space; or a dry, dead sounding one—they play the same. I attribute this to inexperience, and perhaps not understanding the nature of sound and creating music.

I've played thousands of different spaces over the years, and the most important thing I have found, is to learn how to judge each room/venue that you play in for its acoustic properties, and how your instruments will react in there. Now I'm talking mostly about playing with no mics or sound amplification. Using a sound system changes things a lot. But in a completely acoustic environment, you need to be responsible for your sound. This is especially true if you want your listeners to have a great experience.

You need to be responsible for your sound
Tonight, I finished th…

Silence As A Tool

I have to thank my good friend, Kenny Kolter, for the idea for today's post. We were talking about using silence as a tool. It's an interesting concept that I fear many people making music, especially Gong & Bowl players, don't understand.

Into The Realm Of Silence

Silence is remarkable in its ability to actually reveal sound. So much music today, and much of the Gong playing I hear, is a non-stop barrage of sound. In that capacity, it's virtually impossible to distinguish individual sounds, to really hear what is going on. The human mind has the remarkable ability to shut off unrelenting sounds, or noise, after a short time. 

Invite silence into your playing. Photo © Michael Bettine
Think of the street construction in front of your house. At first you find it irritating and loud, but after a while, your mind tunes it out and you barely notice it anymore. The same with the neighbor's lawn mower, busy street traffic, or living by an airport. All these extraneous sou…

This Is Not A Competition

It always intrigues me how artists often talk like they are in some sort of completion with other artists. “If only I was as good as X,” or, “I've really got X beat with what I'm doing now.” This type of thinking, whether feeling less than, or better than someone else, is really counter productive to our artistic endeavors. 

The funny thing is, if you are trying to keep up with someone else, they will always be a step or two ahead of you. And if you feel that you are ahead of someone else, they may shift direction and leave you sitting there by yourself.


Competition. What for? What is the real goal? The only competition we need is with ourselves. The challenge should not be to be better than someone else, but to be better at what we do each day. The arts are not sports. There are no winners or losers. There is no real definition of winning.

I used to think this way, but it's a dead end where you end up spending too much time looking over your shoulder at what othe…