Do we need a new chanting style?


A dear friend who I’ve stayed with on and off used to walk around with this playing on her iPod all the time.

I had to remind myself; it was me disturbing the sound :laughing: it reminds me of hold music


The commitment shown by all of you to the Dhamma is…humbling. I have never chanted anything, ever. The only time I have even heard chanting (apart from a few audio tracks) was in Bodh Gaya - I think it was some Thai that was played over a speaker near the main temple, every morning. It was nice and soothing to wake up to…


A Sri Lankan monk I knew in Darwin years ago chanted the metta sutta beautifully before the start of our meditation each Friday evening, but I wonder if we westerners (laypeople, anyway) can realistically get close to the tonal qualities he and other monks and nuns from traditional Buddhist countries have been able to develop over time, or even if we need to. Just the other day I was happily present at the chanting of the metta sutta and taking pf precepts with a groups of monks from Lao, Thai and Burmese monasteries and realised how far distant my own chanting was from theirs. However, as always, I am not discouraged. I’ll press on like we all do. I often think we live in an exciting time to be a Buddhist in Australia (here I’m paraphrasing Malcolm Turnbull). The Dhamma is taking root here and it will be nurtured by the eucalypts, burnt deep red beneath the sun and gazed upon disinterestedly by a mob of grey kangaroos. Then we will know it has found its place.


Hey Trevor, are you still in Darwin? One of my best friends lives in Darwin or nearby (she is mobile!) and I’ve often wanted to visit.


For anyone interested, this book, coming out in the spring, has a case study of Dhammaruwan:



You’re the person who does the audiotip site, correct? I’ve downloaded many recordings from it–thank-you!! Perhaps you could post the link for people here (I can’t seem to locate the website at the moment)? Ven Jiv (?) has some beautiful sutta chanting recordings on it. It’s my favorite chanting I’ve ever heard (along with Dhammaruwan). It’s Sri Lankan style, correct?


Yeah, the website is

All the actual audio files are hosted on is just a menu to point to those audio files. I’m hoping eventually suttacentral will have links to those same audio files, and I can retire from my duties on

Ven. Jiv, a Sri Lankan Bhikkhu, records about 20min. a day, and eventually should have the entire pali sutta collection recorded.


I recently completed a 10 day Goenka retreat, and the chanting was sometimes hard for me to listen to because I couldn’t hear the Pali. Instead it sounded like mumbles, croaks, and groans. Upon my return, however, I began to miss Goenkaji’s chanting, because, although it sounded weird at the time, the heart and deep sincerity with which he sang those verses really came through to me by the end of the course. I still don’t know which suttas he chanted though, as the chanting book provided at the end of the course didn’t really match up with what I heard. Anyway, my point is that, like the music I used to listen to, I appreciate that which has heart and soul, so to speak, far more than proper tone, pronunciation, voice quality, etc.



Thanks for all the work on this !

The chanting by Ven. Jiv is the best thing that I have discovered in recent times, after Ven. Sujato recommended his chants. All my interest in music has faded away after I started listening to them. I am struggling to come to terms with lots of toxicity from my past and for some reason, I find so much pathos and poignancy in Ven. Jiv’s rendering of the suttas. No instruments, no group choruses, no arrangements - just a lone voice calmly chanting something that was said millennia ago…


What is the link to Ven Jiv?



There are, bhikkhus, these five drawbacks of reciting the Dhamma with a sustained melodic intonation. Which five? >
Oneself gets attached to that intonation, others get attached to that intonation, householders get angry: ‘Those ascetics who are followers of the Sakyans’ son sing in the same way that we do!’,{1} there is a break in concentration for those striving [to produce] musicality, and the upcoming generations imitate what they see.

Ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca ādīnavā āyatakena gīta·s·sarena dhammaṃ bhaṇantassā·ti.

These, bhikkhus, are the five drawbacks of reciting the Dhamma with a sustained melodic intonation.


Can’t we read Sutta in Pali without chanting?
Just the same way Frank reading Sutta in English.


If you will forgive me being a pedant for a moment, as if I have any other mode of being, the perfect fifth is not quite as natural as we think! To many traditional musics worldwide, systems that grew outside the influence of the Western tradition of music we link back to Pythagoras, the perfect fifth is a arbitrary interval.

Japanese scalar structures, for instance, is made of interlocking thirds and seconds.

Think get even wilder in Southeast Asia, where equidistant (the same irregular interval between all steps) scales are often traditional! Equidistant scales sound so bizarre to Western ears that we can rarely stand them or hear them as “in-tune” despite the fact that they are.

A famous equidistant scale is C-D-E-F#-G#-A#-B#-Cx-Dx (etc.). No perfect fifths or perfect fourths. Furthermore, no “true octaves”, as C & B# are subtly differently tuned notes. So its non-octaving. Very odd-sounding.


Oh, I didn’t know that, my knowledge of Asian music is very lacking.

The equidistant scale example that you give is a whole-tone scale, which, if it is literally what is used, is derived from an octave, but lacks all fifths. It’s used in Western music occasionally; Debussy used it.

The Japanese scale, though, is not so clear. The intervals all make up a fourth, which is just a fifth inverted. So it still seems to hark back to a similar scheme, even if not identical.

The fifth is (allowing for rounding) a simple ratio of 2/3, and I think it’s natural and extremely widespread, even if human ingenuity finds other modes of expression. One of the interesting things about modern western art is that innovations in visual arts like abstract painting became widely accepted after a brief resistance, while atonal music is still almost completely rejected except for some niches like horror soundtracks. I think there really is a fundamental reason why such intervals feel pleasant.

I don’t know much about Indian music, but Wikipedia has some interesting things.

The examples of ragas given here all use the fifth.

The page quotes from the pioneering music theorist Bharata Guru, whose dates are “estimated” in the hilarious Indian historical style of “between 500 BCE and 500 CE” (!):

Bharata describes a series of empirical experiments he did with the Veena, then compared what he heard, noting the relationship of fifth intervals as a function of intentionally induced change to the instrument’s tuning. Bharata states that certain combination of notes are pleasant, certain not so.

Obviously we can’t draw a straight line from raga theory to Buddhist chanting styles. Nevertheless, it does seem as if the fifth was fundamental to the Indian musical ear, and surely this must have informed chanting styles.


I figured this might be further interesting, even through the text this is taken from deals principally with Chinese chanting practices.

From the ethnomusicologist Pi-yen Chen’s Chinese Buddhist Monastic Chants: Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music (a book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Chinese Buddhist ethnomusicology).

From the opening:

It would be interesting to look at the section of the Sarvāstivāda vinaya Pi-yen Chen speaks of.


Very interesting, there’s nothing parallel to this in the Pali. It would indeed be nice to check the original text.


Do you have a link to this app?


Almost all scales will have a perfect interval of some variety in them, however, whether or not the fifth plays an important functional role is largely arbitrary, and depends on where the scale is from.

In addition, there is a tendency to “normalize” scalar structures and melodic archetypes in the modern era to conform with our fifths-centric expectations!

But yes, I would like to stress that despite by blibber-blabber and need to supply constant trivia, I do agree that the fifth is generally unambiguously considered the “easiest” or “most ‘stable’/comfortable” interval.

Ancient Indian music used a scale very, very similar to the one that Pythagoras built on intersecting perfect fifths. It’s “our” scale more-or-less. Do-re-mi etc. But there are so many ways that things can become complicated despite using fifths to tune a scale, and there are many ways in which musics can refuse to play nice and use fifths on a structural level melodically.

For instance, in the Phrygian mode, one has many perfect fifths available, including, theoretically, a central fifth (E-B) around which the scale is based.

However, the tenor of the mode (similar to to “dominant” in modern music theory) is a minor sixth away from the final (similar to the “tonic” in modern music theory).

So there are two important pitches, one is a low E, one is a high C a minor sixth above it. You can see this authentic phrygian structuring in Pange lingua gloriósi:

Look how most of the material avoids that B (the tone a perfect fifth from the final) like it has the plague! One would think that the B should play an integral functional role in the melody, looking at things from a “tonic-dominant” lens.