There’s no doubt that we live in a stress-inducing age. Statistics repeatedly confirm that more people, of all ages and walks of life, are experiencing more unhappiness and anxiety than people three decades ago.
There are plenty of reasons for this, with the most obvious being the repercussions of COVID-19. But technology also plays its fair part, and arguably has had a larger impact in the long run.
Match all this with global issues and economic recession, and you have a perfect recipe for a worried world.
This is where gongs come in! Among its innumerable uses, music has always been used to promote personal wellbeing and peace.
In fact, there is an entire branch of psychology and therapy that uses sound and music to promote personal health. Quite intuitively, this practice is called “sound therapy.”
Gongs have held a unique place in sound therapy, long before it was a “hip” trend in the West. Long before Brian Eno and ambient music, we had the complex and soothing sounds of Asian gongs.
In this article we’ll check out five excellent gongs for sound therapy beginners that I've tested recently. After that, we’ll look at the benefits of sound therapy and the things you should consider before buying a gong for yourself.
The Best Gongs for Beginners
1. Zildjian Traditional Gong
We begin our roundup with a simple, all-purpose gong from the renowned percussion company Zildjian. Before going into the details of the product, it’s worth mentioning that their name automatically speaks to their quality.
Originating in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) 360 years ago, Zildjian is the oldest instrument-making company in the world. What’s more, they’re one of the oldest operating companies in the entire world – period!
Now, onto the product! Zildjian’s traditional gong provides all the necessary items you’ll need to get started with sound therapy. Besides the gong, it also includes a small stand and mallet.
With more specialized gear, you often have to buy these items separately. However, since Zildjian intended to make this product for beginners, they bunched everything together in an easy-to-buy product.
Zildjian’s traditional gong is intended for small spaces. The stand is just under 1.5 feet tall and wide, with the gong itself being even smaller. This results in a quieter, more compact product.
For people living in townhouses and apartments, the traditional gong lets you experience gongs without annoying your neighbors – something everyone can appreciate!
As far as the sound goes, it is incredibly bright, without being jarring. Its sustain lasts for a long time, giving it ample time to pulse, swell, and fill a room. Even with a gentle, almost silent hit, it can last for quite a while!
2. Meinl Sonic Energy CH-TT20
Among sound therapy connoisseurs, Meinl and Paiste make some of the best gongs and percussion instruments around! With that said, Meinl’s Sonic Energy CH-TT20 is excellent for beginners who want to experiment with the sounds and experiences they want to create.
Personally, I found it more versatile than Zildjian’s model. While both are excellent products, Meinl’s Sonic Energy is worth the extra money because of its expansive sonic possibilities.
What makes the Sonic Energy gong so special? It all comes down to design. Inspired by traditional Chinese practice, it’s handmade with a special alloy that produces more tones than usual.
Because of its unique chemical makeup, it vibrates uniquely to produce both low “root” notes and complex overtones. All gongs do this to a degree. However, Meinl went the extra mile to ensure more variation and complexity in the sound.
The Sonic Energy also has a curved rim that helps with tone and sustain. By hitting the gong in different ways, you can elicit everything from a somber hum to a wave-like crash. Paired with excellent sustain, this increases the sonic possibilities even more.
Meinl’s product also pleased me in the mundane details. They include a quality beater whose texture pairs well with the gong’s potentials.
Plus, you’d think that a 20-inch gong wouldn’t make a very loud sound – but you’d be surprised! Although it’s perfect for a small apartment, it can also function perfectly in a large space.
3. Paiste “Symphonic Gong”
This gong selection is easily the most expensive option on this list. Even if you don’t consider buying it, Paiste’s “Symphonic Gong” is an excellent example of an instrument designed specifically for sound therapy.
Plus, it has a really neat story behind it! Things are about to get really nerdy here … but bear with me, it’s really cool!
The “Symphonic Gong” was built to mimic nature’s patterns as closely as possible. Everything around us is made up of atoms, and each of those is made of smaller parts – we all know that!
What’s interesting is the fact that those smaller parts behave more like waves than distinct objects. In fact, they actually vibrate … just like a gong!
As it turns out, certain vibrating frequencies occur all over nature. Several decades ago, a guy named Hans Cousto sought to figure out what the natural frequencies of the planets were.
Paiste took Cousto’s discoveries and transformed them into a gong that’s literally in tune with the planets. When you strike the “Symphonic Gong,” it’s large and resonant enough to send vibrations through your body.
Depending on the frequencies, the gong can help relieve various physical and psychological pains. Some use this spiritually, while others base it on science. Whatever your belief, it really does help you relax – that’s for sure!
Besides its unique tuning, Paiste’s gong is also built to sustain as long as possible. I find its subtle changes in tone over time quite fascinating in their own right!
4. The Gong Shop’s “Wind Gong”
As we’ll learn later, different types of gongs produce different sounds, which can be used for different purposes. The Gong Shop’s “Wind Gong” is a classic example of wind gongs, and is moderately priced at several hundred dollars.
This gong’s design delivers light, airy, and shimmery sounds. While most gongs are meant to create an ambiguous sonic experience, wind gongs do it the best.
This effect is created by the gong’s flat design. It’s basically a flattened bell that curves slightly at the edges. With 80% copper and 20% tin, I describe its tone as a perfect “sound painting of a cloud.” It’s fluffy, but filled with endless variations.
Because this wind gong acts similarly to an ambient music patch, without distinct timbres or pitches, I find it especially useful for relaxation and mental cleansing. It’s relaxing and provoking, yet it encourages you to relax instead of focus intensely. Both skills are crucial to well-rounded sound therapy.
5. The Gong Shop “Chau Gong”
Just like the Gong Shop’s “Wind Gong” name refers to a specific kind of gong, “chau gong” also refers to a kind of gong. Chau gongs produce a very focused tone that is both mellow and bright.
Because they are mellow enough to relax, yet bright enough to emphasize pitches, chau gongs are the best of both worlds. They can be used to encourage relaxation, but can also be used to make distinct sounds that promote heightened focus.
The Gong Shop’s Chau Gong is elegantly curved all-around, meeting at a point at the center. When hung, it creates the perfect centerpiece for any room. At 15 inches, it is one of the smaller gongs on this list, making it excellent for people in small homes and apartments.
I enjoy this chau gong because I think it’s the mellowest product on this list. It can be used for a wide array of purposes, whether to create the base of a soundscape or bang out a distinct note.
While not as sonically expansive as Meinl’s Sonic Energy gong, the Gong Shop’s chau gong still packs tons of possibility into a product that’s significantly cheaper. If budget is your chief concern, then this is an excellent, versatile choice!
Why are Gongs Useful in Sound Therapy?
Before helping you decide which gong to get, it’s helpful to get an overall idea of what sound therapy is, and how gongs are beneficial in its practice.
According to Prevention.com, sound therapy is the therapeutic use of sound and music to intentionally self-reflect, for improvements in health and wellbeing.
As it turns out, gongs are naturally suited for sound relaxation! In several Asian cultures, their sound is described as the “roar of creation” because they can imitate a wide array of nature-like tones.
But tone isn’t the only great thing about gongs. They are also slow and relaxed – just like nature! The frenetic pace of our modern world exists in direct contrast from the slow, gentle patterns of nature.
When you strike a gong, it can ring for a veeeeery looooooong time. If you listen carefully, its sound will morph and change over time. You may hear pulsing beats, shimmering overtones, or colossal hums.
Often, gongs will actually do something called “resounding” (as in “re”-“sounding” again, not echoing like “resound.”) This happens when its own sympathetic vibrations actually cause it to make a brand-new note. This, of course, extends its sustain even more.
A talented practitioner can use careful techniques to produce different sounds, all of which can be used for different purposes.
Hard mallets create bell-tones and soft ones create sound pads. Striking the center produces deep tones, while striking the mid-area creates swelling tones. Hit the rim and you’ll get bright, dramatic roars. This subtlety might remind you of cymbals.
The possibilities are endless, yet the results are different every time. Nature never ceases to surprise, so why shouldn’t a gong?
While this is all interesting from an acoustic perspective, it also works in harmony (pun intended!) with psychology. Forcing listeners to slow down causes their brains and minds to reset and refocus on life itself, rather than its fleeting distractions.
“Gong baths” are sound therapy sessions designed specifically with gongs in mind. They often last 30 to 90 minutes, and have participants lie down with blankets and masks.
As they lie surrounded by various gongs, they literally feel the vibrations soothe their bodies. The slower the vibrations, the more relaxing it can be. If you relax enough, you can experience the benefits of deep concentration and REM cycles while being fully awake!
It may seem silly to some people. In fact, it may sound like a bunch of adults lying down for kindergarten nap time!
But before you judge, I wonder if we should be considering something else: how can we validate a society that overworks its citizens to the point of physical anxiety, and celebrates this practice by calling it “hard work?” Personally, I don’t think sound therapy is farfetched at all!
What to Think About When Buying a Gong
While gongs can be incredibly diverse in use, it doesn’t have to be complicated deciding which ones to buy! Sound therapy beginners would be happy with any of the selections listed above. Still, the more intentional you are with your goals, the more rewarding your efforts will be.
First and foremost, it’s important to know why you want to buy a gong. “Getting rid of stress” or “relaxing” are great goals, but aren’t very specific. A better question is asking “How?” as in, “How will I get rid of stress.
Do some research for yourself and find what kind of sound therapy interests you. Some sessions focus on mental cleansing, where you seek to “simply exist” in an ambient soundscape.
Others work on active concentration, encouraging you to dissect the subtle sound-changes you hear. The more you know what you want to do with your gong, the more you’ll know what to look for.
Once you know what you want to do with your gong, decide what type you want. Wind gongs are great for creating ethereal sounds, whereas chau gongs are great for creating unique tones.
If you’re interested in meditation through vague soundscapes, the Gong Shop’s wind gong would be a great choice! If you’re interested in creating unique tones, their Chau Gong and Meinl’s Sonic Energy are great.
If you want something with a very intentional design and spiritual possibilities, Paiste’s “Planet Gong” has you covered. And if you just want a great catch-all option, you can’t go wrong with Meinl’s Sonic Energy or the Gong Shop’s Chau Gong!
Lastly, it’s not always fun, but limits are limits. Consider your budget and home situation.
If you’re on a tight budget, I would recommend Zildjian’s model and the Gong Shop’s Chau Gong. They deliver lots of results for a great price point. Those same models are also great for small homes because they are small, yet stylish.
I hope this article gave you helpful insight into the world of gongs and sound therapy, and helped spark some ideas for how you can regain inner clarity and relaxation. In my opinion, there’s no greater way to be a “positive rebel” in today’s society than to fight constant work and business.
Once you’ve got your gong, make sure you are prepared for a great gong bath experience! Dress cozy, and be intentional with your goals.
Try not to eat beforehand – you don’t want digestion getting in the way! But do make sure you’re hydrated. Those might seem like silly things to think about, but they really do help!
Hopefully, 30 minutes later, you’ll be a new person with a new perspective! Until next time, enjoy relaxing and refocusing, and always, ALWAYS have fun!