The Steel Pan Instrument Family

The steel drum instrument family is comprised of different instruments in different ranges. In the soprano range, there is a Lead pan (also called a Tenor pan). This is similar to a flute, trumpet, or soprano sax, with its lowest note at middle C and rising chromatically two and one half octaves. The Lead pan is the main melody voice of the steel pan orchestra. They are tuned in the cycle of fifths, which is a consistent arrangement of notes that places notes that are most consonant to each other next to each other. This makes chord and scale patterns the same for the player in all 12 keys. Like an alto saxophone, the Double Second steel pan is also in the alto range. They are two and a half to three octaves chromatic and it takes two barrels to hold all of the notes of a Double Second. Each barrel of this steel pan is tuned to a whole tone scale. The six notes of each whole tone scale make up the twelve notes found in a chromatic scale. While still an effective melody … [Read more...]

The Steel Drum Movement – Part I

The steel pan, commonly referred to as the “steel drum,” is recognized worldwide as the most important acoustic instrument to be developed since the 1800’s and the only family of instruments to be invented since then. The origin of the steel pan dates back to 1940’s Trinidad. Today there are thousands of steel drum bands worldwide, many of which comprise over 100 players performing full symphonic works, jazz, calypso, and other music from around the world. In the United States, a recent phenomenon has been the formation of many large steel drum orchestras that serve as not-for-profit community institutions that are also dedicated to serving and uplifting economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. While the strikingly beautiful sound of the steel pan draws participants from all ages and races, the core of most of these orchestras are youth and teenagers who feel cultural pride in being able to express music on the steel drum instrument which was recently developed by peoples whose … [Read more...]

The Steel Drum Movement – Part II

Many localities in the United States and elsewhere around the world have small steel pan performing ensembles, which are typically two to six members. These small steel drum bands often play for weddings, barbecues, private parties, corporate events, and other occasions that require steel band entertainment. Their repertoire focuses mainly on more recognizable songs in the styles of calypso, soca, and reggae. In the United States, some of these small steel drum bands also include American beach music and other types of popular music that they restyle into calypso or reggae. A six piece band of this sort might have two or three steel drum performers plus a rhythm section of a drum set player, conga or percussion player, and usually electric bass. The steel pan bass instrument, called a six bass, has six full size barrels and it’s often too difficult to transport and could take up too much space in small performing situations. Hence, the electric bass is a good musical substitute for the … [Read more...]