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Handpan Music & Sound Meditation

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Discover 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 specialized several years before. They learn to build the steel pan with Trinidad and Tobago pioneers around the 70's. 

The idea of the Hang came from the percussionist Reto Weber who played an Indian instrument called Gatham. Observing the concave shape of the steel pan, he had the idea of making it convex, on October 13, 1999, at the Panart headquarters in Bern. Two steel pan shells were put together, with 7 notes being tuned in only one of the 2 shells. With this UFO-like shape, he now could play the instrument with his hands, like a Gatham, but also benefiting from 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 prefer to call it Pantam, a popular alternative word for the Handpan. This term originated with an Israeli music store owner and is a combination of the words ‘Steelpan’ and ‘Ghatam’.


Currently there are hundreds of Handpan makers around the world, each one bringing its unique qualities and developing instruments that are far more advanced.

The Handpan evolution

Since 2000's the Handpan evolved substantially. The metal used in the beginning was nitrided steel, but somewhere between 2010 and 2012 a huge step was made when makers began to explore 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 sorts of different scales that started to arise since then and models having up to 30 notes nowadays 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". Most dings (apex ding) has a dome form (it's rare, but there are also inpex dings, shaped inwards like a bowl) 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, it isn't common to build handpans with a chromatic scale, a scale containing all tones and semitones and which would allow playing in any key, like a piano. They hardly are 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 sound of the instrument (which essentially depends on the type of material used and the skills of the maker) and the scale of choice.

Which Handpan do I begin with?

With all that being said, choosing a Handpan isn't as easy as choosing other sorts of instruments. There are many factors that need to be considered if you want to be satisfied with your instrument. If you don't have any idea from where to start and need any guidance, I would love helping you with bringing more clarity. Please contact me here.

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

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