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What You Need to Know About the History of Handpan

by Henter Feng 03 Jul 2024

Meta Description: Thinking of taking up hand pan drum? First, discover the fascinating history of the handpan music instrument, its origins, its cultural impact, and its unique design.

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If you’re reading this, it means that the handpan drum instrument has had some sort of impact on your life. And by now, you’ve realized how incredible this instrument is.

 

The handpan, also known as “hang,” is a convex steel drum. You can play it with your hands and tune it to numerous notes. Each handpan is tuned to a certain scale, such as major, natural minor, harmonic minor, hijaz, and mixolydian. Sonically, the handpan is an overtone-emitting instrument that can produce multiple layers of sound and ethereal sounds. It also pairs well with drone instruments.

 

Today, we can discover various names for the same instrument, including ‘Hang,’ ‘Handpan,’ ‘Pantam,’ ‘Hang drum,’ and many more.

 

Handpans are a relatively new sort of instrument, having only emerged in the last few decades. However, they have quickly garnered appeal among artists and music enthusiasts alike. The handpan drum’s simple design allows musicians and non-musicians to create freely. But you may not be aware of how the world’s newest musical instrument came to be. Here is the origin tale of handpans, which started with the PANArt Hang.

Origins of the Handpan

In the 1970s, the Trinidad steel drum ignited a European phenomenon. Felix Rohner had been playing steel pans for twenty years, and he formed his own firm, PANArt, in the 1990s to manufacture these concave instruments. Sabrina Schärer, who would become his long-term business partner, joined PANArt shortly after.

 

Reto Weber, a Swiss jazz and steelpan musician, visited India. He approached PANArt about playing the steel drum with his hands, as he had done with the Indian ghatam (clay drum), asking, “Can you make a ghatam with notes?” The hang drum instrument and what became known as the handpan were formed from this influence.

 

Felix and Sabrina transformed the Trinidad steel drum by flipping a bespoke hand-hammered metal pan from concave to convex position. Each of the seven to eight notes was subsequently made extremely sensitive to even the tiniest touch. This allowed the artists to play the instrument manually. The instrument’s center note, known as “the Ding,” bubbles out from the center. The notes of the musical scale circle around the Ding and up the sides of the pan. These notes are sunken into the metal, similar to a traditional Trinidad steel pan. However, they have an additional dimple in the center of each note.

Introduction to the World

The tuned convex pan was then glued together with a strong adhesive and a resonating chamber of thicker steel with an opening in the middle (known as the “Gu”), which may also be played percussively when the instrument is flipped upside down, resulting in a visually intriguing UFO shape.

 

Felix and Sabrina referred to the instrument as “the Hang” (pronounced hah-ng), which simply means “hand” in their Swiss-German dialect. They acquired legal rights to the moniker “Hang” through PANArt. The Hang was officially introduced to the public in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2001, and the instrument quickly gained popularity because of its lovely and enigmatic tone and unique scales.

 

The yearning for the hang instrument music began to build quickly. Felix and Sabrina, on the other hand, viewed the Hang as a work of art rather than a commodity and refused to mass-produce it, instead producing just a limited quantity each year.

Production and Legacy

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Felix and Sabrina implemented a policy requiring potential Hang purchasers to submit a handwritten letter explaining why they wished to purchase the instrument to PANArt. Those who showed up for the PANArt workshop in Bern, Switzerland, without an invitation were turned away. PANArt discontinued production of the instrument in 2013, much to the dismay of thousands, in order to preserve the instrument's mystique, worth, and elusiveness.

 

Felix commented, “The Hang is not something to display in a store window. It fits into the flow of the gift. This is the idea we would like to communicate.”

 

Beginning in 2007, instrument companies in Europe and the United States started to produce their own versions of the Hang. Nevertheless, due to legal constraints, the term “Hang” is exclusively used for PANArt instruments. Thus, the term “handpan” was coined, and it now refers to any sort of “Hang” style steel pan made by a manufacturer other than PANArt.

 

There are still only about a hundred handpan makers worldwide, making the handpan extremely difficult to get and pricey in comparison to other instruments. Because of the high demand and complexity of manufacturing the device, top-tier manufacturers have waiting lists that can push orders back for years. However, discount hand pans for sale do occur on the websites of various manufacturers, and second-hand resale of handpans is commonplace. So, go ahead and buy a hang drum to take up a new and unique hobby.

Handpan Characteristics

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The handpan, a completely steel musical instrument, is held on the lap and played using the hand and fingers. The idiophone instrument produces a sound similar to that of a harp, gong, or harmonic tone. The handpan musical instrument is formed when two hollow steel sheet components are bonded together from their edges. Vibration is used to produce various sounds and notes by hitting small pits on the surface.

 

When you begin playing the handpan, you can immediately enchant the audience by creating a mysterious mood.

 

It can be heard as a solo. If you wish to learn a new musical instrument as a pastime, the Handpan instrument may be ideal for you. However, because it is still a work in progress, you may have a quite different experience.

Is the Hang a Handpan?

PANart has stated repeatedly that the Hang is not a handpan or a steel pan. They explain that the hang instrument is tuned differently from handpans or steel pans, specifically in terms of note structure and design. This has been explicitly disputed by one of the top authorities on the steel pan, Anthony Achong, author of “Secrets of the Steel Pan, Unlocking the Secrets of the Science, Technology, Tuning, and Operation of the Steel Pan.” Achong plainly notes at the end of this commentary in response to PANart’s claim: “The Hang is a Steelpan (Pan) with a limited musical range (low registers only) due to the chosen method of direct hand playing.”

 

Furthermore, numerous handpan builders have researched and used PANart's tuning procedures, architectural designs, and shell-making techniques to create their own handpans and pantam instruments.  Some handpan makers center their whole design on accurately replicating Hang’s original design and sound.

 

Most people regard the Hang, handpan, and pantam to be the same family of instruments, although each company has its own brand name.  We commonly refer to the Cosmos as a Handpan, although our customers have dubbed them “Handpans,” “Hang Drums,” and “Pantams.”

Cosmos Handpan Online Store

The team behind Cosmos Handpan is made up of skilled craftsmen, each with their own unique talents and expertise. They work tirelessly to create instruments that are not only beautiful to look at but also a joy to play. Each handpan is carefully crafted with precision and attention to detail, ensuring that every note is perfectly tuned.
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