Everything you need to know about steel drums

Everything you need to know about steel drums

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Steelpans which are also very well known as steel drums or pans, and sometimes, collectively with other musicians, as a steel band or steel orchestra) is a musical instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago. Steel pan musicians are called pannists.

The modern pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument which are made from 55 gallon industrial drums that are bespoke and obtained from a metal fabroicator. Some builders make the instrument direct from sheet metal.

The Drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made; the steel drum is more correctly called a steel pan or pan as it falls into the idiophone family of instruments, and so is not a drum (which is a membranophone). Steel pans are the only instruments made to play in the Pythagorean musical cycle of 4ths & 5ths

The Steelpan is struck using a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber tube or surgical rubber wrapped. The size and type of rubber tip varies according to the class of pan being played.

Some musicians suuxh as Gary Trotman at Steelasophical (when performing on his Double Seconds) use four pansticks, holding two in each hand. This skill and performance have been conclusively shown to have grown out of Trinidad and Tobago’s early 20th-century Carnival percussion groups known as Tamboo bamboo. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

Everything you need to know about steel drums

This is the Tenor Steeldrum that Gary Trotman performs with at Steelasophical Steel Band. It was made by BIGGS (London) back in 1982. The most unique thing of note is that since Gary collected his steeldrum all those years ago (and despite the 10,000;s of performances, demonstrations and rehearsals, Recordings etc …), this steel pan has NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER been tuned!!

Everything you need to know about steeldrums

This is the Double Second Steeldrum that Gary performs with at Steelasophical Steel Band. It was made by BIGGS (London) back in 1992. The most unique thing aof note is that since Gary collected his steeldrum all those years ago (and despite the 10,000;s of performances, demonstrations and rehearsals), this steel pan has NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER  been tuned!

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Steelasophical | Steel Pan Drum History

Steelpan also known as a pan or SteelDrum, although the  National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago invented just prior to the second world war, is now mass produced, revered and developed throughout the world including USA, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, France and here in the UK.

The Steel Drum Pan is performed using a pair of wooden or aluminium mallets, housesing rubber tipps. 

Developed from the Carnival, where slaves in Trinidad were not permoitted to take part, so they formed their very own celebration of dance and music to run in parallel, and this was known as Canboulay.

The first instruments developed in the evolution pan was the Tamboo-Bamboos. Tunable sticks made of bamboo wood from the Bamboo Tree. These were hit onto the ground and with other sticks in order to produce sound. Tamboo-Bamboo bands also included percussion of various metal and glass objects such as Bottle and Spoons. Latterly leading to the invention of the first Winston Spree Simon invention, steelpans. … the rest is documented history.

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Everything you need to know about steel drums

Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan BAnd 01
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band 02
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band 03
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band Gary Trotman
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band Gary Trotman r
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band Gary Trotman re
Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Pan Band Gary Trotman ree
Caribbean Island steel bands
Jumbie Jams

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Although steel drums (steel pans)

were unreal within the Caribbean Island of island and Tobago someday round the Second war, they’d been evolving since the 1800’s once the inhabitants were celebrating Carnival (a street parade). This celebration was delivered to the island by the French.

After the slaves were freed in 1834, they joined within the festivities victimisation their drums. However,the colonialists were nervous concerning the percussion that they thought can be accustomed pass secret messages which will have light-emitting diode to social unity and a attainable revolution among the Blacks. The percussion activities were thus prohibited.This failed to stop the natives however! They replaced their drums with tuned bamboo sticks referred to as Tamboo Bamboo. (“Tamboo” springs from the French name for drums-Tambour). The larger sticks were stomped on the bottom,and the smaller ones were smitten along. this can be what these instruments look like:

Tamboo Bamboo Family

During the 1930’s biscuit tins ( overwhelmed with clean sticks) were enclosed as rhythm instruments within the Tamboo Bamboo bands. However, owing to fights between rival gangs, the Tamboo Bamboo bands were impermissible.This light-emitting diode to street bands being comprised completely of steel instruments like tin pans, biscuit drums, dustbins and alternative things like brake drums and spoons(!). These bands were usually named as “Iron Bands” or ” Pan Bands” It was shortly before The players detected that their steel instruments modified pitch once being overwhelmed for a minute. With Carnival being impermissible throughout war II for security reasons,the earliest steel pan pioneers had longer to experiment with and improve on the standard of sound from their steel instruments.The terribly 1st steel drums with pitches(notes)were made up of smaller metal containers and were convex-concave in form.

Early convex-concave percussive instrument

From around 1948 the tiny pans were replaced with the larger ones made up of the without delay out there fifty five gallon oil drums that were discarded by the oil refineries on the island.The first percussive instrument with the twelve notes of the scale was developed. the previous convexity of the steel drums had conjointly been modified to a incurvation to accommodate a lot of notes.The notes were fashioned with convex-concave formed dents. Rubber was conjointly wrapped round the pan sticks (mallets) to form its sound a lot of mellow. Ellie Mannette has been attributable with these specific enhancements and he’s so wide thought to be the daddy of the fashionable percussive instrument (steel pan). alternative notable contributors to the event of this instrument ar Bertie Marshall and Anthony Williams, however there have been more.

Fifty years once the Second war, pan manufacturers have developed the percussive instrument into the marvellous instrument that it’s nowadays through refined experimentation with the metal parameters, intuition and a decent musical ear. this can be what the fashionable percussive instrument (steel pan) sounds like. The name of this explicit one is named a Tenor Pan.

There ar many styles of steel pans that are developed to match the functions of the assorted typical instruments in terms of pitch vary.

The development of various steel pans with their own distinctive tone was speedy. Ellie Mannette and Neville Jules emerged as best percussive instrument tuners. At an equivalent time, bands were being fashioned across the island with a number of them adopting names from yank movies like Destination Edo, Casablanca, Rising Sun, Invaders, Tripoli, Bar 20, Red Army, Desperadoes.

Here could be a icon of Ellie Mannette calibration with a strobe light. he’s a true innovator!

In the last forty years, the bands have come back quite an great distance, moving from the pan yards(where they’re kept) within the most depressed areas of society to a number of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. The Desperadoes, for example, have performed at the Royal Albert Francis Charles Augustus Emmanuel Hall in London, Carnegie Hall, the Phoebus Apollo and Lincoln Theatres in NY, the international organisation building,

and therefore the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. alternative bands like Renegades, All Stars, section 2 and Exodus have excited audiences from London to Paris to Japan,with renditions of a number of the foremost complicated works of composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius,Rossini and Aleksandr Borodin, to call some. The band shown here is Exodus, that is engaging at the Annual World Music pageant in island and Tobago.

Steel drum band

The steel pan is currently the National Instrument of island and Tobago, that is kind of fitting for associate instrument that was solid from the resilience of land that were subjected to suppression and hardship!

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Caribbean Island steel bands

What you need to know about steel drums

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Everything you need to know about steel drums

High Tenor – The high tenor (also referred to as a soprano pan) is that the highest pitched of the steel drums (steel pans) with a pitch vary of D4 to F#6, that is, up to 2 octaves and a significant third from D higher than note (C4). Its precursor truly contained fewer notes that were at intervals the tenor vary. However, the name “Tenor” was unbroken despite the upper vary of its descendant, the soprano pan. The notes of this pan is organised within the cycle of 4ths, going dextrorotatory.

The high tenor pan may be a lead instrument and unremarkably carries the melody. However, these steel drums will simply play a harmonic role reckoning on the will of the music arranger.The high tenor is often utilised by pan soloists.

Low Tenor – The Low Tenor, that contains a pitch vary from C4 to E6 has notes that area unit organised within the same order because the high tenor. The perform of this steel pan is that the same as that of the high tenor and it’s additionally utilised by pan soloists.

Double Tenor – The Double Tenor, that was fictional by Bertie Marshall, uses a pair of drums associated contains a pitch vary from F3 to B5 or up to 2 octaves and an increased fourth from F below note. These steel pans have a distinctively pleasant sound, that makes them terribly appealing to pan soloists. The double tenor may be accustomed carry the melody, a harmonic voice, for counter melodies or for chords.

In the latest standardised version of the double tenor steel drums,the Eb note is on the mitt pan and therefore the F# is on the correct hand pan. In associate earlier version of this pan, the Eb is on the correct hand pan and there was no F#3. therefore you went from F3 to F#4 to G3 and up, that stone-broke the continuity of the vary. there’s even a double tenor that has all-time low F# (F#3) on the left and therefore the different F#’s on the correct, with the Eb additionally on the correct. So, if you choose to play this pan you need to be conscious of its variations. The arrangement of the notes on the double tenor isn’t symmetrical, that makes it one amongst the tougher instruments to master.

The Double Second Pan This steel pan was fictional by cub Roach and uses 2 drums, every of that carries the notes of a whole-tone scale, creating it a really symmetrical steel pan. Its notes vary from F# below note (F#3) up to C#6, that is 2 octaves higher than note. attributable to the symmetry of this pan, the ordered notes of the musical scale alternate between the left and paw pans. for instance, F# is on the left, G is on the correct, G# is on the left, and so on… The versatility of the double second steel drums makes them capable of enjoying lead, harmonic voices, chords (harmony) or counter melody and that they area unit highly regarded among soloists. they need a really distinctive (floaty) tonal quality which can ensue to the “whole tone” arrangement of the notes of every pan. The sound of the double second steel pan is slightly deeper than that of the double tenor as a result of it’s a extended skirt.

The Quadrophonic Pan – The quadrophonic steel pan uses four pans and has an in depth pitch vary,from B2 one octave below note to Bb5, one octave higher than. every pan contains the 3 notes of associate increased chord, creating it a symmetrical pan.The two front pans (2 and three within the diagram) area unit decorated within the vertical plane creating a lot of physical effort necessary to play it. The quadrophonic steel pan may be accustomed give harmony,low melodic reinforcement, or for countermelodies.

Everything you need to know about steel drums

The stringed instrument Pan – The stringed instrument pan uses a pair of pans and got its name as a result of it’s used primarily for strumming. it’s unremarkably accustomed give the harmony in an exceedingly band however it can even be used for counter melody. The vary of this percussive instrument lies from C#3 i.e. one octave below note, to F#5 one octave higher than note and note arrangement is analogous to it of the double seconds. This percussive instrument contains a mellow and deeper sound thanks to its longer skirt.

The bowed stringed instrument Pan – The bowed stringed instrument Pan uses three pans, every of that contains the four notes of a diminished chord. One pan so contains the notes C, Eb, Gb and A; another pan contains C#, E, G and Bb; the third pan contains B, D, F and Ab. The vary of this pan goes from C3, one octave below note to B4 higher than note. The longer skirt and therefore the minor-third relationship between the neighbouring notes of every pan offers the bowed stringed instrument pans a deep mysterious tonal quality. These steel drums excellent for counter melodies and low harmony. The symmetry of those steel drums permits the musical scale to be compete in an exceedingly dextrorotatory pattern between the 3 pans. Note that the position of the pans and even the arrangement of the notes at intervals the pans will vary in line with the design of the bowed stringed instrument pan

The four Pan Bass – This bass percussive instrument is additionally referred to as a Tenor Bass and uses four drums,each of that contains the notes of associate increased chord. The note arrangement of this percussive instrument is analogous to the quadrophonic steel pan. The vary is from G2, 2 octaves and a fourth below note, to D4 higher than note.

This pan is employed to supply the bass perform and provides sound projection for the lower vary bass pans.

Other bass pans used area unit the six-bass (most common), seven bass, nine-bass and fewer unremarkably, the twelve-bass. larger depth is achieved with the inclusion of a lot of drums. However, the perform of every variety of bass steel pan is that the same. A six-bass steel pan chart is shown below. The neighbouring note in every of those pans area unit a fourth apart, thereby giving it some symmetry.

Choosing associate Oil Drum – The first step in creating steel pans is build a decision|to come to a decision|to make your mind up|to choose|to determine} the sort of steel pan you’ll make. Then use the subsequent table to see the quantity of empty 55(US) gallon oil drums that you just can would like. Choosing oil drums of appropriate thickness is incredibly vital once creating steel pans. Lower pitched steel pans(steel drums) like those from the stringed instrument pan to the bass steel pan would force thicker oil drums. However, oil drums that area unit one.2mm thick can work for many steel pans. The steel of the oil drums ought to be delicate however not galvanised, which can manufacture steel pans of inferior tonal quality. don’t try creating steel pans from oil drums that contain sharp dents or deep rust. Sharp dents can create it tough to provide a steel pan with a swish enjoying surface, whereas deep oxidation could lead to the oil drums detonating throughout sinking.

The process of constructing steel pans from oil drums involve sinking the lowest of the oil drum (the finish while not the opening) into a swish concavity, wherever the notes are going to be later placed. By sinking the oil drum you’ll additionally eliminate the natural vibration of the enjoying surface, which might otherwise interfere with the clarity of your notes of your steel pan(steel drum). Before sinking, you’ll ought to thrash out any dents that will air the rim of the oil drums, as they’ll adversely have an effect on the skin notes.

Now, we tend to should notice the centre of the oil drum. To do this, measure 26.6 cm from many points on the rim of the oil drum towards the centre.Use your compass and marker to draw a pair of coaxial circles of radii 10cm and 20cm from the centre. you’ve got currently divided the oil drum radius into 3 components, which is able to create it easier to watch the form of the oil drum whereas you’re sinking.

Using the sledge hammer, strike the oil drum on the outer circle, operating towards the centre employing a spiral approach. once you reach the centre, work once more from the outer circle, continuance the method, moving slowly round the oil drum till you get the desired depth as shown below.

Marking the notes – You will would like a versatile ruler and a pen for this task. Going on the rim of the oil drum, mark the length of the outer notes, then draw lines from these marks towards the middle mark of the oil drum. Note that some tuners try this before sinking the oil drum. Mark the inner border of the skin notes together with your versatile ruler. Draw elliptically formed inner notes so they purpose longwise towards the middle, a minimum of 1cm on the brink of and on a similar axis as their corresponding outer notes. so as to take care of independence between them, don’t draw adjacent inner notes nearer than one.5cm from one another .

Location of steel pan notes – The picture below shows the notes being marked once associate oil drum has been unsuccessful. This step is incredibly vital once creating steel pans, as dangerous placement of notes on the oil drum can not be reversed once a steel pan has been made!

Backing and formation- Tools needed – Metal Punch, backing sledge hammer and a smoothing hammer with a plastic head. Use the backing hammer

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Further reading – Everything you need to know about steel drums

  • Aho, William R. “Steel Band Music in Trinidad and Tobago: The Creation of a People’s Music”, Latin American Music Review 8 (1): 26–56, 1987.
  • Blake, Felix I. R. The Trinidad and Tobago Steel Pan: History and Evolution. ISBN 0-9525528-0-9
  • Dudley, Shannon K. “Judging ‘By the beat’: Calypso versus soca”, Ethnomusicology 40 (2): 269–98, 1996.
  • Dudley, Shannon K. Making music for the Nation: Competing identities and Esthetics in Trinidad and Tobago’s Panorama Steelband Competition. PhD dissertation; University of California Berkeley, 353pp., 1997.
  • Dudley, Shannon K. “Dropping the Bomb: Steelband Performance and Meaning in 1960’s Trinidad”, Ethnomusicology 46 (1): 135–64, 2002.
  • Grant, Cy. Ring of Steel – Pan Sound and Symbol. Macmillan Education, London, 1999. ISBN 0-333-66128-1
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. Geste individuel, mémoire collective: Le jeu du pan dans les steelbands de Trinidad et Tobago, Cahiers de musiques traditionnelles 14 : 181–202, 2001.
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. Mémoire et jeu d’ensemble ; La mémorisation du répertoire dans les steelbands de Trinidad et Tobago. PhD dissertation; Université Paris X Nanterre, Paris, 2005.
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. “The influence of the group for the memorization of repertoire in Trinidad and Tobago steelbands”. 9th International Conference on Musical Perception and Cognition proceedings, ed. by M. Baroni, A.R. Addessi, R. Caterina, M. Costa, Bologna, 2006.
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. Les steelbands de Trinidad et Tobago : Ethnomusicologie cognitive d’une mémoire d’orchestre, In Intellectica 48 (1) : 81–101, 2008.
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. Mémoriser à plusieurs. Expérience sur l’effet du groupe dans les steelbands (Trinidad et Tobago). Memorizing together. Group effect experiments in steelbands (Trinidad and Tobago). Annales Fyssen 24 : 216–235, 2010.
  • Helmlinger, Aurélie. La virtuosité comme arme de guerre psychologique, Ateliers d’anthropologie, 35, 2011.
  • Kronman, Ulf. Steel Pan Tuning – a Handbook for Steel Pan Making and Tuning. Part of the series, Musikmuseets skrifter, 1992. ISSN 0282-8952
  • Manuel, Peter. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-59213-463-7
  • Seeger, P. Steel drums – how to play them and make them, Oak. Publ. New York, 1964.
  • Stuempfle, Stephen. The steelband movement. The forging of a national art in Trinidad and Tobago, University of Pennsylvania Press, 287 pp., 1995.
  • Thomas, Jeffrey. Forty Years of Steel: An Annotated Discography of Steelband and Pan Recordings, 1951–1991. Connecticut, USA: Greenwood Press, 1992.
  • Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Band

Everything you need to know about steel drums

Notable Pan Players

Ellie Mannette

Winston “Spree” Simon

Tony Williams

Ray Holman

Liam Teague

Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

Rick Henson

Don Prorak

Duvone Stewart

Tom Miller

Andy Narell

Andrew Neldon

Keisha Codrington

Devindra Ramautar

Gary Trotman

Keishaun Julien

Johann Chuckaree

David Vine

Russ Henderson

Andy Akiho


Jimmy Buffet and Lord Kitchener are known for composing music later adapted to the steel pan.

Noted pan tuners and producers:

Darren Dyke, Mappo, Bertrand Kelman, and Herman Guppy.

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