Everything You Need to Know About Gongs for Sound Healing
Author: Malcolm Newland
Picking the right gong for sound healing comes down to the experience you’re looking to create and the outcome you’re hoping to have.
Sound healing is a personal experience for everyone, so there are a few things to consider when choosing the right gong. Let me break it down.
How do I choose a gong for sound healing?
To be completely honest, most gongs have similar effects, creating an auditory experience that can be calming, grounding or relaxing.
So it really all depends on the sound you’re looking for and the reason you’re using it. Which gives you a few considerations to shop with:
- Weight. Different styles of gongs mean different materials, sizes and therefore weight. Do you need to easily maneuver the gong around, or is it staying in the one place for a while?
- Budget. Gongs can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Know what your range is before you get too attached to a certain look.
- Depth of sound. The note made by the gong can be low or high, and each is intended to have a different effect on the body.
- Style of gong. The average person would probably associate gongs with a powerful sound, but many gongs (and different mallets) actually produce higher and softer sounds. Again, it all depends on what you’re after.
It’s always best to try before you buy. Look out for audio samples or videos (we have a whole library here) so you can get a better sense of what resonates with you.
You can also have tuned and untuned gongs. Again, it depends on exactly what sound you’re aiming for when choosing between them.
- Tuned gongs can play melodies and specific pitches. For example, each gong in Meinl's planetary series is tuned to a particular frequency in order to replicate the frequency of a celestial body’s orbit.
- Untuned gongs don’t have a discernible pitch. They’re used more to keep rhythm, e.g. as part of an orchestra, to create a sound that doesn’t interfere with or overpower the other instruments.
I’d also recommend taking a class or course of some kind before forking out for a gong. They can be tricky beasts to play effectively for sound healing, so it can literally pay to invest time in learning the right techniques first.
What are the best gongs for sound healing?
You can use an individual mallet, a pair, or a friction mallet on any gong, but how you strike it and for how long can create entirely different sound profiles. Most gongs can be truthfully played with the same techniques, but every gong will create a different sound experience.
Of note: All gongs should be primed before really playing them – and it’s especially important for large gongs. If you don’t prime it with softer vibrations, you can potentially shock the gong and crack it. (And once cracked, they can’t be fixed.)
Chau (or chao) gongs are one of the most popular sound healing gongs. They are recognisable for their bullseye design, with a black outer edge and black inner circle that sandwich a rim of bronze.
Chau gongs have a distinct sonorous sound though, as with many gongs, the exact sound and pitch is dependent on how it is struck and what it is struck with. This diversity of sound makes them a good pick for a range of sound healing practices, like sound therapy and meditation.
Techniques for playing Chau gongs for sound healing
You shouldn’t always aim for the bullseye, tempting as it may be to want to hit right in the centre of a Chau gong. It’s a nodal point, meaning it’ll vibrate the least when hit there. A variety of sound can be produced by striking around the centre and along the bronze ring.
- You can use one beater for more plosive sounds
- Or you can use two beaters with a rolling motion to achieve a slower, blooming quality
- A friction mallet can also be used to create a sustained, high pitch sound.
As the name suggests, wind gongs produce a lighter, more air-like sound. Also known as Feng gongs or lion’s roar gongs, wind gongs can produce everything from a reverberating, deep musical pitch to a shorter shrill sound. Most are still fairly close in frequency to Chau gongs.
Wind gongs are also distinct for their simple appearance. They’re most often hammered brass, though sometimes with a painted design. They are almost flat except for a slight taper towards the edge of the rim. Generally speaking, they’re one of the more affordable gong options, too.
Techniques for playing wind gongs for sound healing
Wind gongs are popular picks for gong sound baths as you can create either a dramatic crashing sound (like gongs are known for) or sustained reverberations. However, it’s not as easy to control that reverb as it is with Chau gongs.
Depending on the size, you can create different effects.
- By running a rubber friction mallet over the face, you can create an almost haunting long sustain with these gongs.
- A felt or yarn headed mallet will help you get that crashing sound experience that can awaken the senses.
Thai gongs can be made of iron, stainless steel or brass and are hand hammered by traditional gong makers. They’re common to see in Thai and Burmese Buddhist temples, but they’re also traditionally used to repel bad spirits in households. You’ll also see many intricately decorated gongs in the Thai style.
They’re distinct for the raised centre or nipple at the centre of the gong. They can range from simple in design to intricately patterned.
Techniques for playing Thai gongs for sound healing
Most Thai gongs produce a clear, tuned tone that offers an uplifting or resonant sound. That can range from a lower to high pitch, depending on what they’ve been tuned to.
Smaller Thai gongs may be better played with an individual mallet and/or in a tuned set so you can create a melody or play a range of pitches together.
Opera gongs are so-called since they’re traditionally made in China and played in the Chinese opera (duh) and theater. You may also see them called Bender or Bending gongs.
And you can actually have different kinds of opera gongs, each of which have different pitches.
- Traditional opera gongs descend in pitch once hit
- The pitch of hand gongs ascends
- Jin Ban gongs also ascend in pitch and have the highest pitch of all types of opera gongs.
Techniques for playing opera gongs for sound healing
The difference in pitch comes down to the design. The front/middle of opera gongs juts forward from the rim, creating space for two different tones that you can blend together or play separately. That gives you some cool ways to play opera gongs for sound healing. You can:
- Strike the gong once for a resonant sound, perhaps to start or end a session
- Play the gong in a circular motion for a continuous sound, e.g. to induce a meditative state
- Use different mallets to create different sounds and vibrations
- Even play the gong from different angles for different vibrations and sounds.
The sound of opera gongs is usually quite short compared to other gongs. I see them most often used for breathwork and energy healing.
While a tam-tam looks similar to and is essentially a type of Chau gong, it actually has no definite pitch. You can’t sing the note of a tam-tam because it doesn’t have one. It contains a number of frequencies which means that one is not more prevalent than the others. The sound is probably closer to white noise than anything else, with no pitch to it.
If that’s still not quite clear, think of it this way: Tam-tams are often used in orchestras because they won’t create dissonance with any other instruments. They add texture and body to the sound instead – kind of like how salt enhances the flavour of other ingredients.
In this way, and in contrast to something like a traditional gong which would be played on its own, tam-tams are best used in combination with other sound healing instruments. Think about using singing bowls, drums and chimes to create a more layered experience.
Techniques for playing tam-tams for sound healing
That’s why it’s key to play a tam-tam right – it’s not a beginner’s sound healing instrument.
You want to use the right mallet (or sometimes a thin wooden board) and use your hand and/or leg to stop it from moving too much. This is also known as muffling the tam-tam, as it changes the length of the note produced. Depending on how hard or softly you’re pressing on the tam-tam, you can muffle a note quickly or let it peter out. Hit a little off the centre with a slow stroke. The mallet should do most of the work for you!
What do you use to strike gongs?
To strike a gong, you need the right mallet or beater for the size and type of gong you’re playing. The sound and frequency you’re aiming should also be a factor when choosing a mallet.
General rule of thumb: The bigger the gong, the bigger the mallet.
But there are some more considerations to think about when choosing the right mallet.
- Size matters, but so does weight and material. Rubber, felt and yarn are the three main types of mallet heads that you can use. Rubber is generally used to create friction by dragging the mallet across the gong, while felt and yarn (over a rubber centre) are better for hitting or tapping the gong.
- Some mallets are made for gongs, but not all. For example: singing bowl mallets come in a wider variety of designs, but they’re made specifically for the material of the singing bowl.
- Hardness and softness of the striking end of the mallet will impact sound. Harder heads create a brighter sound while softer heads yield a more mellow experience.
- Gong mallets can range in price from less than $50 to several hundred dollars. It’s not always that the more expensive equals better quality – really, it’s about your budget and desired sound.
You don’t need to stick to one type of gong beater or mallet. For a holistic sound experience, you can try a few variations.
Like I said, where and how hard you strike the gong also changes the sound. Rubber mallets produce resonant, sustained sounds, in contrast to the shorter, softer and brighter tones. They’re best used by skimming the mallet across the gong, generally with a flicking motion through the wrist.
A “glancing” strike from a felt or yarn-headed mallet can be soft or hard, but usually creates shorter bursts of sound. The force that goes into the strike will also change the sound. It’s generally easier to vary the rhythm with felt or yarn-headed mallets, especially when using a pair.
If there’s one thing you should always do when playing a gong (whether for sound healing or not) is warm it up. A few light taps that increase in volume will help to prevent cracking or breaking. Remember that you don’t need to go loud here. The point is just to prime the surface for the harder or louder strikes you’ll make later.
- For 32" or larger: Innovative Gong Mallet - Large
- For 22" - 32" gongs: Innovative Gong Mallet - Small
- Any gong size: Innovative Concert Bass Drum Rollers
- Friction mallets: Balter Emil Richards Super Rub Mallets
- Friction mallet set: Sonic Energy Gong Resonant Mallet Set
To wrap up
As with any percussion purchase, I'd recommend you try before you buy. When treated right, gongs should last you a long time and be a central part of your sound healing practice. We’re always happy to chat about what works best for you in store or over the phone, so feel free to drop in or reach out.
Make a joyous sound!