1. This is that Jamaican garbage can thingy, right?
NO!!! The steelpan is a finely crafted musical instrument from the country of Trinidad and Tobago. They often start off as 55 gallon drums, but more builders are starting to work with sheet metal and making the entire instrument from scratch.
2. Is this the same thing as a steel drum?
Depends on who you talk to. Many people refer to this instrument as a steel drum, while others refer to it as a steelpan. They are all referring to the same instrument, just different lingo. Many people argue that the steelpan is not a steel drum in the same way a violin is not a tree. The steelpan is made from a steel drum just like a violin is made from a tree. The other side of the coin is that many of the pioneers of this instrument called it a steel drum, so many people carry on that tradition.
3. I want to get into steelpan what do I do?
Well, that depends on your situation. If you know somebody that has a steelpan already, talk with them. Get some introductory lessons from them just about the layout of the instrument and how it is played. If you do not know anybody, check with local schools. Steelbands have been developing in more and more schools over the past few years. Everything from grade schools through universities are starting to embrace this beautiful instrument. It still is not common in most schools, but it doesn’t hurt to ask around.
If getting a preview of a steelpan is just not possible for you, then you are only left with one option, buy one. Buying a steelpan, is just like any other instrument, you get what you pay for. If you are just looking for a beginner instrument that has all the notes, but really does not sound good you can find cheap instruments below $300. If you feel this is going to be more than just some passing fling, invest in a quality instrument. Yes, these cost more upfront but you get a much better instrument. Not only will these instruments sound better than the cheap ones, but they will stay sounding better longer. The cheaper instruments tend to go out of tune more quickly.
Once you find out where to get a pan, you need to decide what pan you want. Most solo players will use the lead steelpan (also called the soprano or tenor). This is made using a single drum, and hence takes up the least amount of space. Another great solo instrument is the double seconds. The double seconds utilize two drums in their construction and have a lower range than the lead pan. If space is not an issue, feel free to explore the possibilities of any instrument from the steelpan family. If you would like more information, please e-mail us.
4. Where can I get a steelpan?
Steelpans are available in many different places, you’d be surprised where they will pop up. The Steelpan Store is currently in negotiations with a handful of instrument makers and will soon be offering the instruments for sale in the store. If you need assistance locating an instrument please e-mail us. We are here to help other pannists, it’s all about spreading the love of pan.
5. I got a pan, now what?
You are going to need a few more things to get started. Some essentials are mallets, a stand, and a case. You are also going to need some materials to learn how to play. There are two primary ways of learning pan; reading music, or mimicking. There are pros and cons to both methods and, ideally, both should be practiced. If you are reading music, you will need to get some music. When you are just starting don’t be afraid to look through introductory books for other instruments. As long as the range of the instrument is close to your pan, you can use that book. The oboe has an almost identical range to the lead (also called soprano or tenor) steelpan. Other instruments that are similar are the saxophone and violin, but don’t be afraid to look at other music and just see if it will fit on your instrument. Another great way of learning is to simply try to play familiar tunes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by ear. This is a great skill to develop, but try to incorporate some reading as well.
6. What mallets should I get?
Mallets are a tricky thing. Even though they seem very simple, there is a lot of research that has gone into steelpan mallets. Most times, whoever you got your instrument from will include mallets. If that is not the case, then it is up to you to find the right mallet for your pan. You may be asking yourself why there are so many choices. Well, that is because all pans are different. Steelpans are handmade instruments and each builder/tuner does things slightly differently. These differences can make a mallet sound real good on one pan and real bad on another.
7. Do I really need a case?
Yes! The steelpan is a very delicate instrument and unless you plan on never moving it, then you need a case. Moving a pan without a case is just asking for it to go out of tune. One wrong bump on the pan and all of a sudden your F is now an F#! A case is cheap insurance for your investment and will keep you from having to make too many trips to the tuner. Even if you do not plan on ever going anywhere with your pan, a pan cover is still highly recommended. These covers simply slide over the top of the pan and provide protection to the note area from dust and debris. These covers also prevent little Tommy from hitting your shiny new pan with some spoons! You paid good money for this instrument, why not protect it.
8. What music can I play?
You can play just about anything. The only thing that limits you is the range of the instrument. Most popular melodies will not go beyond the 2 octaves, so the lead steelpan will easily accommodate that. You can also play out of method books for other instruments. Once you get more familiar with the instrument you can even do classical pieces like a Bach violin concerto.
9. How often should I get my pan tuned?
It depends. How much do you play? Do you play out much? How picky are you about intonation? How hard do you play? The answers to these questions will help you decide how much to tune your pan. Generally, it is good to have your pan checked out every year. If the tuner can find issues while they are just starting, they are easier to fix. This also could get you out of a tight situation if a note really goes out and you have a gig coming up. Annual tuning will not prevent the pan from going out of tune completely. If you play a lot, or hard, you may need the pan tuned every 3-6 months. Ultimately, it comes down to how precise do you want your instrument to be. If you want it to be completely in tune all the time, you are going to become good friends with your tuner. If you can live with notes getting a little funky, you can get by with just an annual checkup.
10. How is a pan tuned?
With hammers and a lot of skill. Instead of trying to describe this complicated process here. Please check out Ulf Kronan's page about this.
11. Where can I get my pan tuned?
The Steelpan Store is a full service store. We can build you instruments, or retune your current ones. It is always recommended to have the original tuner retune your instrument, but that is not always feasible. If you need help with your pans, give us a call.
12. What do I do when I’m not playing it?
Why wouldn’t you be playing it? With all joking aside, you need to make sure to take care of your pan if you decide to put it into hibernation. Preferably you want to keep it in a dry, fairly warm area inside of a hard case. Having a dry area will help prevent any rust from forming on the steel. A warm area is just something that is around room temperature. If you store your instrument in an area that is real hot, you will increase your chances of having issues with the tuning. Cold doesn’t have the same drastic effect of the instrument, but I wouldn’t recommend keeping it in a freezer or anything. Keeping your pan in a hard case will protect it from things falling on it. This also, will give even further protection from the environment. Having a good hard case for your pan can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.