Over the past ten years, the handpan drum, also known as hang drum or pantam, has gained popularity as a percussion instrument. The handpan’s lyrical and ethereal sound enables players to produce both lively grooves and peaceful, calming melodies. This beginner’s guide will assist you in getting started if you’re interested in learning the fundamentals of playing the handpan!
What Is a Handpan Drum?
A handpan drum is a type of percussion instrument made of two sphere-shaped steel shells that have been joined together using glue. Around a central dome on the upper side, there are 7-9 “notes” organized in a circular arrangement. When the hands strike the notes, which are tuned to various pitches, a musical sound is produced. In the early 2000s,The handpan was created by PANArt in Switzerland in the early 2000s.
The unique shape of the handpan allows it to produce rich harmonic overtones when played. This distinguishes it from similar-looking instruments like steel tongue drums which have a flatter surface. Handpans go by many names including hang drum, pantam, and hank drum. However, “handpan” has emerged as the most commonly accepted term.
Choosing Your First Handpan
If you’re buying your first handpan, it’s important to find a quality instrument from a reputable maker. Price range can vary widely from around $500 to over $2000. Beginners will be fine starting on a more affordable handpan in the $600-$800 range. Focus on low-end tone quality and sustain when test playing potential handpans rather than complex melodic capabilities. Popular entry-level brands are SPB, Ace of Pans, and Saraz.
You’ll also want to consider the handpan tuning. The most common tunings for beginner handpans are D minor and A minor, often labeled DDur or ADur. These tunings allow you to easily play songs in minor keys. Listen to samples of various tunings to decide what tone you prefer. Scale configuration also varies – 7 or 8 note handpans are common for beginners before progressing to 9 or 10 notes.
Handpan Technique Basics
Proper handpan technique is important right from the start to produce the best sound. Here are some key beginner handpan techniques to focus on:
- Holding – For seated playing, rest the drum on your lap or on a dampened surface. Cradle it gently at a slight angle. Avoid muffling the sound.
- Finger Position – Use the fleshy parts of your fingers, not the fingertips. Curve fingers gently to match the shell.
- Striking – Use alternate hands to strike the notes cleanly. Let the notes ring rather than damping.
- Force – Start with gentle strikes as you learn. Adjust your striking force based on the volume and tone desired.
- Damping – To mute notes, rest your hand very lightly on the shell. Avoid stopping vibration completely.
- Center Dome – The center dome produces a bass tone. Strike it gently in rhythms.
Take it slowly as you learn hand control. Poor technique can cause tuning issues over time. Experiment with different finger placements and striking areas.
Playing Melodies and Songs
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, experiment with melodies on your handpan. To become familiar with the notes, play them all in order from lowest to highest. To start, listen to straightforward nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb. While a beginning handpan’s smaller note arrangement restricts the variety of songs you may play, it concentrates learning on rhythm and note transitions.
To increase finger dexterity, start off by playing simple scales. In most tunings, the minor pentatonic scale plays beautifully on a handpan. In order to construct intricate works, more experienced players use finger rolls, loops, dynamics, and fast note changes. However, as a beginner, concentrate on steadily increasing accuracy and flow while slowly building a repertoire of music you enjoy.
Caring for Your Handpan
Maintenance is key to preserving your handpan’s tuning and sound quality. Follow these tips:
- Store safely in a padded gig bag or case when not playing
- Keep in a humidity controlled environment
- Wipe skin oils off with a microfiber cloth after playing
- Tune to an electronic tuner periodically to check note accuracy
- Apply tuning wax to the notes every few months
- Avoid exposing to direct sunlight or rapid temperature changes
With proper care, a quality handpan will maintain its resonance for years. Be careful not to dent or drop the shell as any deformation can cause note distortion.
Expanding Your Handpan Skills
Once you’ve honed the basics, you can move on to more advanced handpan playing techniques:
- Rolls – Play rapid alternating strikes between two notes
- Harmonics – Lightly tap notes to produce higher overtones
- Counterpoint – Play melody and accompanying notes
- Percussion – Use fingers/hands to beat on shell for rhythms
- Effects – Slap, scratch, tap the shell for creative sounds
- Tuning – Learn to tune notes that lose accuracy over time
Other add-ons that might enhance your handpan sound include guitar picks, brushes, and mallets. To find inspiration, look for how-to guides, videos, and handpan performers. You can use your handpan for meditation, jam sessions, live performances, and artistic musical expression with consistent practice.
The handpan is a percussion instrument with a huge range of uses. We hope that this introduction to handpan drumming provides you with a strong basis on which to build. Allow the calming steel tones of the handpan to guide you on a lifetime of musical exploration!