Learning to Play Gong

Although I have been a musician most of my life and studied music in college, when I realized that I wanted to learn the gong in my early 30’s I experienced a sort of primal fear. The gong is unlike many instruments we encounter in the west. It has no moving parts. It has no keys. It does not appear to have any notes. And worst of all, the gong looks like it will be simple. However, sitting in front of the gong holding the mallet for the first time I felt like I had been transported into a Stanley Kubrick film where the gong represented some ancient artifact from long-deceased human species.

Temple Gong in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Temple Gong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The only place to start was with my breath. As my teacher walked around pretending to tidy up, I was left alone to meet the gong first hand. My mind saw the connection of all things. The energy from the sun that brought me there to that moment transferring into kinetic energy as I swung the mallet, transferring into vibrational energy as the mallet made contact and started to move the air in the room. As the sound began, it was at first subtle, but I could sense that something was happening beyond my control. In the span of a few seconds, which had been compressed to an eternity, I felt a rumbling and heard a wave of sound crescendoing in the room. The vibrations hit me squarely in the chest and my belly softened on an exhale. The sound continued to morph into higher and higher frequencies until I could not not tell whether I was still hearing the gong or whether my whole body was just vibrating and my ears still ringing.

From that first connection with the gong, I was all in. Over the years getting to know several gongs I have realized the subtleties of each. All gongs have their individual personalities and are predictably unpredictable. Just when you think you have figured your gong out, it does something new and your whole relationship dynamic changes in an instant. It’s amazing, moving, profound, and continually changing. It’s just like life. Playing the gong is worthwhile for this reason but it’s not a casual relationship to dabble with. The gong deserves your full attention and respect and should not be hung as an ornament never to be played.

Unexpected Gong
My 32″ Paiste at Unexpected Gallery for an Art Installation

These days, my gongs travel around with me almost everywhere. Keeping them silent seems to be the worst type of crime as they want to share their sound. They are communal and bring people together. They are both symbols of peace and actual harbingers of peace. Some of my greatest joys are when I first sit to play and sense the silence before that first note, knowing it’s all about to change.

About the Author: Hamid Jabbar is a yoga teacher, musician, Thai bodyworker, and sound healer living in Phoenix. He teaches yoga and offers private lessons in gong, crystal bowls, tibetan bowls, guitar, and native flute. If you are ready to experience the gong as a player, you must learn to play. Hamid offers a variety of private lessons and trainings.

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