Touch The Sound

Touching Your Instruments

Touch. It's so simple, we do it all the time. But what about touching your sound? Have you really felt the vibrations? I know a lot of people are afraid to touch their Gongs or Bowls, because they don't want to get fingerprints on them. Many people wear white cotton gloves when handling them. This is partly because someone once posted online that fingerprints will affect the sound, deadening the Gong or Bowl. This is only slightly true. You would have to accumulate years and years of fingerprints and dirt to actually deaden the vibrations of your instruments. Just touching your Gong/Bowl won't change it's sound.

Modern Paiste Gongs, and some others, come from the factory with a protective wax coating. All you need to do is take a soft cloth and wipe them off after each use to keep them clean. If they get dirtier, use some mild dish soap and water, then dry with a towel. That will clean things up nicely. Unless the wax coating has worn away, there is no need to worry about fingerprints or heavier cleaning.

Asian Gongs don't have a coating, but you can apply a furniture polish, like Pledge, if you want to add a bit of protection and shine. That said, I rarely clean my Gongs or any instruments, and I handle them all the time. I have Gongs I bought new in 1974 that look the same as they did when I got them. They may have darkened a bit, but fingerprints are not evident. I also have some very old bronze Gongs and cymbals that have developed a beautiful, deep green/brown patina over the years. I would never clean or polish them.

Touching The Sound

Back to the sound. Strike your Gong, then hold your hand up to it, a few inches away, and feel the vibrations. Strike it again and move your hand closer, then further away. Notice how the vibrations change. Strike it again and lightly place your finger tips on the Gong: feel the sound

How does it feel? How far up your arm does it travel? Touch the Gong in different places: center, edge, in between. How are the vibrations different or the same?

Next, do the same thing, but move your face towards the Gong. Feel how the vibrations radiate around your face/head. Move your head around, feel the subtle changes in vibrations.

Stand or sit, hit the Gong, then place your back close to it. Feel how the vibrations fill your body. Try this at different distances. Notice the changes in vibrations. The higher frequencies will diminish first, while the deeper vibrations can still be felt further away.

One of the reasons I love to play hand drums is that I come into direct contact with the instrument. There is no stick or mallet acting as intermediary. I touch the drum head. I feel the sound directly through my hands.

Touch The Sound 

You can also do this with Bowls, Bells, or any vibrating instrument. Strike them and move your hand closer to it, then further away. Finally, touch them with your finger tips or palm. Move them to your forehead or cheek. Feel the vibrations on your face.

The idea here is to get to know your instruments, their sounds, their vibrations. If you want to go further in your practice, it's important to have an intimate relationship with your instruments. You need to not only hear them, but to feel them and how they react to your touch. We hear sound as vibration through our skin as much as we hear it through our ears. In fact, the skin is the largest organ in our body. Think of how you can feel the rumble of trucks, jets, thunder.

A perfect example of this is percussionist Evelyn Glennie. She is one of the preeminent percussionists today, yet she is mostly deaf! She learned to hear sounds through her body, through her sense of touch. She always plays bare foot in order to feel the vibrations through the floor.

There's a fantastic documentary on her called, Touch The Sound. If you haven't seen it, I heartily recommend that you do. It may give you ideas on how to experience sound in new ways. 

Don't forget to both touch the sound, and let the sound touch you.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™ / Touch The Sound


  1. We worked with a group of people who were profoundly deaf and did exactly this. As they brought their hand close to a gong, or touched a bowl, the expressions on their faces were priceless. For many, it was the first time they had a direct connection with sound. Broad smiles and requests to do it again and again and again.


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