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The Two Sounds of the Gong

By Metab Benton

The Gong is renowned for its complexity and multiplicity of sounds, and its ability to create an incredibly rich soundscape.

Yet there are only two basic sounds the Gong produces: Fundamental Tones and Harmonic Overtones.

The fundamental tone is what we consider to be the voice of the Gong, an almost deep consistent sound that sustains over time. A good way to experience the fundamental sound of the Gong is to strike one (or several times very slowly) slightly below and slightly off-center for a flat gong (as are most European gongs and the Chinese gongs) and on the raised boss, or nipple of an Indonesian gong.

The fundamental tone is what many people consider to be the sustaining sound of the gong. It is clear, simple and very present. It is a consistent pitch or frequency that carries throughout the sound of the Gong. A long sustaining, or deep fundamental, sound is what gong players refer to as the ability of the Gong to “sustain” or remain present after the strike.

The fundamental tone is usually more evident on the larger or heavier gongs, but every gong has a fundamental sound or voice that colors all the sounds that the gong is capable of producing.

The tuned gongs, or Planetary Gongs that are tuned to the orbital frequencies of the planets, are excellent examples of gongs highly valued for their ability to render a consistent fundamental tone when played.

The harmonic overtones are what give a gong its “singing” quality and the ability to create layers of sounds. There can be a higher pitched carrying tone that rides above the other sounds as the gong is played.

While the fundamental tone is best heard through single strikes, the harmonic overtones are usually created by multiple strikes and in a quicker rhythm than the fundamental tone. The harmonic overtones can often be created exceptionally well around the sweet spots of the gong, such as playing the percussion points labeled “2”, “4”, “8” or “10” as if the gong were the face of a clock.

Skilled gong players begin to weave the harmonic overtones with the fundamental tone to produce sound layers that are somewhat unique to the Gong.

Symphonic gongs, those that are capable of producing a wide variability of sound, produce these harmonic overtones easily. The gongs that have a raised, or bossed, center tend to be more challenging in creating these overtones, and so their chief function is to create the deep fundamental tones which are well received when there are several gongs or instruments played.

Ready to learn more about the gong? Join Mehtab on May 25-26th, for his weekend course in How to Play the Gong. Click here to register.

YouTube Video: How to Play the Gong Promo