Stands for Steel Pan

There are several different types of stands for the steel pan instrument. The most important characteristic of a stand for a steel drum is that the steel pan must hang freely on the hanging loops that are on both sides of each barrel, so that it will have the correct sound.  Where the steel pan musician most often performs is sometimes the determining factor in which type of stand he should use. Other characteristics that stands have include whether the stand is collapsible or whether it "nests" and if it is height adjustable, light in weight, durable, and reasonably priced. Professional musicians often choose a type of  stand for steel pans that is called  a tripod stand. The base or lower part of the stand is like that of a cymbal stand that a drum set player would use. The tripod base has 3 legs. This gives a steel pan greater balance playing on uneven surfaces, like on a beach, on a lawn or hillside and so on. Is much less likely that a steel drum will fall over when using a three … [Read more...]

Mallets for Lead Steel Pans

Each instrument in the steel pan family utilizes a different playing mallet.   Since the different steel drum instruments encompass a wide tonal range, it is necessary to have different materials,  thicknesses and weights to bring out the best sound for each of the steel pans.  A mallet for playing steel drums has a dowel or shaft which is held in each hand and is made of wood, aluminum or sometimes composite materials.  A playing tip is placed at the end of the dowel to make contact with the notes of the steel pan and is made of rubber, latex or similar material.  To produce the right feel and balance, the dowel must have the proper weight. For lead steel pans, also known as tenor steel pans, the player has a choice of different mallets. If the player is new to steel drums, the best choice is a wood dowel mallet. Wood gives better control and does not accentuate hitting errors as the player learns touch on the steel pan instrument. This often means the steel pan will remain in tune … [Read more...]

Finishes for Steel Pans

There are five finishes to know about for steel pans. Many materials have been tried but these five are most commonly in production today. The least expensive finish for a steel drum is paint. With a steel pan, paint almost always means spray paint. Spray paint is not a very permanent finish. For upper steel pans, which includes lead (tenor), double second and double tenor steel pans, this kind of paint has an unfortunate sound characteristic. This is because spray paint does not bond very strongly with metal. It more or less sits on the surface of the steel drum and restricts the free vibration of the notes. This produces a thunky tone on the lower notes of an upper steel pan instrument. This also allows for much less sustain or length of the steel pan notes being struck. The next finish for a steel pan is called powder coat. These have a much better look than a painted pan with a better more glossy appearance. However, they suffer the same unfortunate sound characteristics of a … [Read more...]

Describing the Steel Pan Sound

Describing the sound of the steel pan musical instrument is both difficult and seemingly fraught with contradictions.   Much easier to articulate is the dramatic effect steel drum sound has on so many listeners.   Even though they are comparatively new, it seems surprising that steel pans could have the wide appeal they enjoy worldwide and so easily induce such a high level of listening pleasure.   Some hear it as soothing and cheerful, while others characterize steel drums as exciting and brash.   Since there are so many styles of music performed on steel pans and so many styles of playing steel drums, maybe this is to be expected.    Not lost in this discussion is the "vacation effect" that steel drums have for North American tourists and others.   After spending time in the Caribbean and hearing the beckoning music of steel pans every day, that sound seeps into their subconscious and becomes associated with the free and easy vacation time spent on their island excursions.  Time … [Read more...]

The Intricacies of Steel Pan Tuning

At the heart of the steel drum musical revolution is the remarkable way in which steel pans are tuned. Rather than just adjust fundamental pitches like most every other major instrument, steel drum tuners achieve the shimmering and buoyant sound of the steel pan by careful tuning of the fundamental plus the harmonic overtone partials (high pitches that sound very lightly as bell like tones above each note). They must do this while maintaining the proper shape, height and tension of a note to very exacting tolerances or the sound quality of that note will suffer dramatically. In a broader sense, the steel pan instrument is being tuned during much of the crafting process, since the principles and some of the tuning techniques are applied at different stages of the process. Most often, a steel pan is made from a 55 gallon steel drum barrel. The top of the barrel is sunk to create a concave playing surface. It then goes through a series of steps, each of which must be executed in just the … [Read more...]

New Developments in Steel Pans

When steel pans were first made in the middle of the 20th century, there was very rapid development of the instruments in the steel drum family. Before steel pans were made, older style steel bands played all manner of steel objects for carnival in Trinidad and competed with each other very keenly. Soon after the first steel drum instruments burst onto the scene, the various bands were very passionate about their use. They competed with each other to build better sounding ones for use in competition and during carnival time. This meant many people worked on the development of steel pan simultaneously. Over the years, there was hard won and consistent improvements in sound quality, note placement patterns and many other improvements for each individual voice in the steel pan instrument family. This was because some very brilliant minds applied themselves to the task, but also because a large number of people selflessly worked to bring the steel pan instrument forward. There … [Read more...]

The Unique Sound of Steel Pan

Around the world, people are fascinated with the unique character of the sound that a steel pan musical instrument produces. The creation of the steel drum family of instruments, beginning in the middle of the 20th century in Trinidad, is a major musical achievement. New acoustic sounds that have enough appeal to be adopted usefully into many musical forms are very rare. To find proof of the stature that the steel pan has claimed in such a relatively short period of time, one has only to look at the dedication of the countless musicians who have enthusiastically embraced the steel drum and learned to play it. Steel pan tuners, builders, composers, arrangers and band leaders continue the hard work to bring their art to higher and higher levels. Their vitality and resourcefulness in establishing steel pan have helped it to take its place amongst the other important musical instruments internationally. When steel drums were first made and played as pitched instruments, the … [Read more...]

The Care of a Steel Pan Instrument

Keep your steel pan dry. You should be diligent about preventing rust formation which can ruin your steel drum instrument. Many musicians wipe the instrument dry with a soft cloth following every practice or performance, removing moisture from rain, condensation, perspiration,etc.. A steel pan with a chrome finish should be cleaned once or twice yearly with chrome polish. The application should be a thin layer of polish on the notes and skirt. Lightly buff after a few minutes (after haze forms). Take care as rubbing very hard can detune a note on your steel drum or even remove some of the chrome finish. Tune your steel pan annually by a professional tuner. It can be tuned more often depending on how much it is played and your personal sound requirements, but too much tuning will decrease the life expectancy of your steel pan. For this reason, many people wait for one year, as a rule of thumb, to tune their steel drum. Unless you are a tuner, you cannot tune your own … [Read more...]

The Full Voice Steel Pan Orchestra

In a full voice steel drum band, more steel pan instrument types are utilized to maximize the expressive capabilities of the ensemble. The four voice steel band has Leads (also known as Tenors), Double Seconds, Cellos/Guitars and Basses. The most common additions to a four voice band to make it full voice are the Double Tenors and Tenor Bass steel pans. The Double Tenor is in the same range as a Double Second since it most often has F below middle C as the lowest note. While it also has all the notes on two steel drum barrels, it has a different note pattern and a distinct sound as compared to the Double Second steel pan. The outer rim notes on the steel drum are grooved with a more square shape rather than the oval shape seen on most steel pan notes. This was an innovation of Bertie Marshall of Trinidad, who is a great master tuner and the most important creator of the modern harmonically rich sound of steel pan instruments. The squaring off of the note shapes gives the … [Read more...]

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...]