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GRACE HARTEMING

Handpan Music & Sound Meditation

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                                                  The Handpan 

The birth of a new instrument

In the year 2000, the Swiss company PanArt introduced a newly created instrument called hang®. The original one was inspired by the steel pan, a traditional Caribbean instrument in which PanArt specialised several years before. The idea came from the percussionist Reto Webe which played an Indian instrument called Gatham. He had the desire of merging Gatham with the Steel pan to give it notes. Two steel pan shells were put together, with 7 notes been tuned in only one of the 2 shells. With this shape, he now could play this instrument with his hands, like a Gatham, but also with notes like a Steel Pan (the steel pan was originally played with mallets). For several years PanArt was the only company to build these instruments, but later on, several makers were inspired to build their own version. Since the name hang® is a registered trademark, the name Handpan was given as a generic. Some makers and players prefere to call it Pantam (Pan + Gatham), which would be an more accurate name, preserving the fusion of both original instrument's name. Currently there are hundreds of Handpan makers around the world, each one bringing its unique qualities.

The Handpan evolution
 

Since 2000's the Handpan evolved substantially. The metal used in the beginning was nitrided steel, but in recent years a huge step was made when makers began to use stainless steel. Thanks to the refinement and explorations of manufacturing techniques, the sound received another timber, with more sustain, stability and notes more precisely tuned. Not to mention the many scales that started emerging (PanArt would tune only a few scales with 7 notes) with models having up to 30 notes already! This was made possible by increasing the number of notes in the upper part of the instrument (those models are called "mutant") and also by creating notes in the lower part.

 

The Handpan structure

The lowest note of the scale is (generally) placed above in the middle of the instrument, and is called "ding". The ding has a convex form (it's rare, but there are also concave dings) and this characteristic gives it a more percussive tone. The ding can therefore be used not only as a note, but also to create the rhythmic structure of a composition such as grooves. Around the ding, a standard Handpan usually starts with 7 or 8 notes (one octave). 

Unlike other musical instruments, there aren't handpans with a chromatic scale, a scale containing all tones and semitones and which would allow playing in any key, like a piano. They aren't produced due to problems with interference between notes. 

This is the main reason why Handpans are constructed with different arrangement of notes producing a wide variety of different scales (Major, Minor, Celtic, Kurd, Pygmy etc.). Each of which will create different atmospheres and bring different feelings and sensations. When choosing a handpan, there are some important elements to keep in mind: the timber of the instrument (which essentially depends on the maker and the type of metal) and the choice of scale.


Which Handpan do I begin with?

With all that being said, to choose a Handpan isn't as easier as chosen other sorts of instruments. If you don't have any idea from where to star and need any guidance, I would love to help you bringing more clarity. Please contact me here.

*This text was curated by Antonio Arvind, Handpan maker from Satya Sound Sculpture.

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