A gong is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc which is hit with a malleta.
Gongs are broadly of three types. Suspended gongs are more or less flat, circular discs of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through holes near to the top rim. Bossed or nipple gongs have a raised center boss and are often suspended and played horizontally. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on cushions and belong more to bells than gongs. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other alloys in use.
Gongs produce two distinct types of sound. A gong with a substantially flat surface vibrates in multiple modes, giving a “crash” rather than a tuned note. This category of gong is sometimes called a tam-tam to distinguish it from the bossed gongs that give a tuned note. In Indonesian gamelan ensembles, some bossed gongs are deliberately made to generate in addition a beat note in the range from about 1 to 5 Hz. The use of the term “gong” for both these types of instrument is common.
Suspended gongs are played with beaters and are of two main types: flat faced discs either with or without a turned edge, and gongs with a raised center boss. In general, the larger the gong, the larger and softer the beater. In Western symphonic music the flat faced gongs are generally referred to as tam-tams to distinguish them from their bossed counterparts, although the term “gong” is correct to use for either type. The gong has been an ancient Chinese custom for many eras. They were first used to signal peasant workers in from the fields as some gongs are loud enough to hear from up to 50 miles away. In Japan, they are used to start the beginning of sumo wrestling contests.
Gong use in meditation
Meditation can be a journey inwards or a pushing of the spirit outwards, but usually there is some visualization of travel. Certainly, it can feel as though a great distance has been traversed in the space of an hour, while sitting still in your living room. A meditation gong can provide a great deal of support, accent and anchor to one’s meditation.
Gongs have been used since prehistoric times and are found all over the world. While there are many types of gongs, the kind that is most often used in relation to meditation and contemplation is the suspended gong.
Playing a gong for meditation involves a great deal more than just banging the disc with a stick. A skilled musician or devotee can coax a wide range of sounds from a gong that can have amazing effects on a listener’s state of mind. During an intense reflection, the mind enters a state where it is very open to thought and consideration, and in that state, the sound from a gong can penetrate and support the thoughts, so to speak.
The sound can be extremely smooth and relaxing, helping one to gather one’s thoughts rather than scattering them.