Steel pans have been made to exist as a family of instruments. If you think of a brass family where the trumpet or cornet plays higher pitched notes and the tuba plays lower pitched notes, this is also how it works in the steel pan family. I will talk you through the different types of steel pans that I have, the bass pans are on order and are due to arrive by Christmas!
Known as the ‘soprano’ or ‘lead’ pan, it has a range of almost two and a half octaves. As ‘lead’ pan suggests, it is the instrument that plays the melody line. The lower notes are placed in a circle around the edge of the pan’s surface and the notes get higher as you move towards the centre of the pan.
Also known as ‘alto’ pans. They are played as a pair and have a slightly lower range than the tenor pan. They reinforce the melody by playing harmonies and also play counter melodies. They have a nice warm and soft tone and are placed quite near to the front of the ensemble.
These are also played as a pair. They have a more limited range than the front-line pans and are usually used to play the lower harmonies. They are used to create the effect of strumming chords hence the name ‘guitar’.
The six large bass pans only have three notes on each one which means they can be played by one person who stands in the middle. The bass pans are arranged in semi-circle around the person who has to readjust their body position to be able to play different notes. I will update with photos once they have arrived but they are full sized oil drums.
All the steel pans are played using rubber tipped sticks which vary in size depending on the size of the steel pan.
There are more steel pans that I haven’t talked about here such as high tenor, double tenor, triple and four cello. There are different tuning systems used for steel pans, depending on what the maker decided to use at the time.