DIY Cymatics Tips & Tricks for Playing a Plate

by Jodina Meehan on December 5, 2009

Whether you are interested in the physics of sound yourself, or want to teach about the physics of sound waves for kids, one of the best ways to experience sound waves firsthand is to play a cymatics plate and see the sand or salt transform from chaos into geometric patterns formed by sound vibrations right in front of your eyes.

The of Cymatics will be making a video course available on “how to make a DIY cymatics plate” for those who want to build a Chladni-style cymatics plate of their own.

In the meantime, for those who already have (or are building) a DIY cymatics plate and have had some difficulty learning to get the sound vibrations going properly, here are some tips for playing your cymatics plate, and a set of cymatics images that will illustrate some tips on playing a cymatics plate visually for you:

Tip #1: Make sure the surface of the cymatics plate is smooth and free of obstructions or “stickiness.” There are two things you can do to reduce resistance on a cymatics plate surface. One, wipe the surface with a ’static cling’ dryer sheet (like Bounce) to remove any static electricity. Two, take a bit of the powder crystals you are using for cymatics patterns and put some on the surface of the plate, then take a soft cloth and polish the plate lightly with them, before cleaning the plate and applying sound waves.

Tip #2: Make sure your bow is tightened enough. I personally tighten my bow with a pair of pliers, but be careful not to tighten it until it breaks. Also, be sure to loosen your bow afterwards and never leave it tight when you put it away.

Tip #3: Be sure you have enough rosin on your bow. You want to have a really good coating, and you can recoat it each time you play to increase stickiness. In my experience, the more stickiness, the better the cymatics images you will get.

Tip #4: Hold the bow very firmly and press in on the edge of the plate very hard, then pull slowly and firmly, not quickly and lightly, along the edge of the cymatics plate. Get the bow to “catch” and the vibrations to start, then keep going, keeping your bow hard against the cymatics plate’s edge.

Tip #5: Use a sieve to pour your salt or sand through onto your cymatics plate before you play. This give you a nice, even coating of particles to start with, and eliminate any “pouring pattern” that gets left from applying particles by hand, which might show up in your cymatics design and make it less “pure.”

Click on this set of cymatics images to see the tips I’ve offered here illustrated in photos.

And be sure to put your name in for a subscription to the Journal of Cymatics in the upper right hand corner here, so you can get an announcement as soon as the new “cymatics how to” plate instructions become available.


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Cymatics: Preparing a Cymatics Plate Surface | Journal of Cymatics
December 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Patty January 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm


How much are you charging for making me one and can you suggest the best sound generator to purchase that can be attached to your plate & to a computer?

Thank you,



Wendy Dunnico February 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm

Hi Jodina,

I’m interested in making a Chladni plate for creating artwork. It needs to vibrate at the same frequency for about an hour, so that the paint will dry accurately in that pattern. I just saw Meara O’Reilly’s experiments with singing into a microphone and her plates vibrated beautifully. I noticed that you commented on her website and asked how she set up the equipment with a transducer- did you manage to find out what she used, and how? I’d be so grateful if you have any advice on this.
Many thanks, Wendy.


Jodina Meehan Reply:

My suggestion would be quick drying paint, such as ink or watercolor.
I have not been able to get a reply from Meara, but I would use a
Pasco wave driver and steel or brass plate.

thanks for writing!



Lyudmila August 7, 2014 at 4:53 pm

As part of our testing pceorss, we use a method of soundboard stiffness testing and deflection compliance that was first suggested by David Hurd in his book Left-Brain Lutherie Using Physics and Engineering Concepts for Building Guitar Family Instruments. This is an outstanding book on the application of science and engineering to the craft of Lutherie. In this book, David proposes that deflection measurements of the soundboard be taken at the point in the building pceorss where the soundboard has just been attached to the sides and thea0back has not been attached yet. This allows the lutheir to make both soundboard thickness adjustments and bracing height and thickness adjustments based on results of deflection and Chladni pattern tests.a0a0



John Lawson February 19, 2015 at 8:14 pm

I’m sure you’ve seen Mr. Lauterwasser’s video clip on youtube where he uses the square plate and takes the sand through many forms. That is what I am trying to duplicate with dismal results at present. Was it a chladni plate? Is there somewhere I could go to find out the details of what he used? I’m having no luck finding the information. Any advice would be much appreciated.



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