More about handpans-
The celestial sounds of the pan can easily entrance and enchant the listener and player alike, as it did to me on my initial discovery. Totally acoustic, totally portable, they sounded (and looked) to me like something an Elf would play in a high fantasy novel; etherial and enchanting, effortless beauty. The sounds of angels singing, magisterial music and tranquillity. Later in that year I got my first prototype instrument off of the internet (this is NOT recommended!), so I could go off into the woods and sing my songs to the forest...
Handpan Music Lessons
I am now offering beginner-intermediate handpan lessons for students in the Denver, CO and Front Range region. I offer an absolute beginner's introduction lesson, a "Handpan Discovery Session", where we will go through the basics of the pan, handling, techniques, etiquette, care, and maintenance, and get you playing your first rhythms and melodies. The second half of the session is left open for you to really go deeper with the instrument and begin to explore the possibilities! I have a couple different scales and brands of handpans, so you can begin to discover which sounds you like the best and what all the differences are between instruments.
An intuitive instrument unlike any other
Pantams can be used by almost anyone to create fun, simple music, even if you don't have any musical experience at all. I like to compare it to flying a kite: Pretty much anyone can go out and fly a kite and have a great time! Handpans are highly intuitive (such as the visual size of the tone-fields corresponding to the pitch) and they only hold a certain amount of notes, leaving off many "wrong notes" and making it much easier for beginners to make good music. But of course you can always go deeper into the instruments, maybe a hot air balloon or an ultralight aircraft would be the next level of flight... And then there are those who dedicate their whole lives to these instruments and try to become astronauts, using the handpan to take them on a galactic journey!
Each handpan is tuned to a specific musical scale, such as a major scale, or a minor scale. So you have only the notes that "go together" with that scale, and none of the "wrong notes" that are outside of that one particular scale tuning. This makes playing much more intuitive and much less complicated than learning a chromatic instrument (can play all the notes) like guitar, piano, violin, etc. and many people with no musical background at all can pick up a pan for the first time and get a simple rhythm, pattern, or even a melody within just a few minutes of playing. Then you will start to notice how the different scales sound and which ones you really love, as they are all very unique and have a different feel, even the same scale in a different register (different key) or a different layout of the same notes (different octaves). The scale could reveal itself as a haunting minor melody, or perhaps a joyful major chord progression, or maybe its a mystical, exotic harmonic minor scale (my personal favorite from the beginning). The sound can take you off to dream, relax, meditate, and explore.
And while the instruments can be great for beginners to get a feel for music on a non-chromatic instrument and the initial wonderment of being able to create such beautiful music with such little musical background, knowledge, or even much effort, mastering the handpan will likely take a lifetime! Even then, there my be no limit to what we can discover these instruments are capable of. Right now it feels like we are still in the discovery stage of what musical dimensions they can take us to. I don't think most pan players out there ever feel like they are done mastering the instrument, they are always evolving and developing new techniques and sounds. But most people will need to practice and play for many years until they really have a high level of proficiency on the pantam.
History and Fabrication
Handpans usually undergo a chemical process called nitriding to give the steel that characteristic darker, more mysterious sound than that of the brighter timbres of their predecessor, the Caribbean steel pan (steel drums are played with mallets, pantams use the hands and fingers to strike the notes, hence the term handpan). The nitriding process being used to temper and refine the sound of steel was an innovation by the company PANArt in Bern, Switzerland. This culminated with the invention of the first pantam-type sound sculpture in 2001, trademarked under the name Hang®, which translates to "hand". The Hang® is the original and direct inspiration for all the handpans and pantams that have come afterward, and recognition must be given to the inventors of this wonderful instrument. PANArt stopped making any new Hanghang (plural of Hang) in 2013 (just a few months after I found out about them!).
Pantams are made by hand from thin sheets of steel, crafted with hammers, air hammers and many other techniques (like hand-sunk vs. hydroforming for the initial shell sinking, or rolled, pressed, lathe spun, etc). With all of the detail and craftsmanship that's required, it takes many hours (could easily be 60 hours or more per instrument) of skilled labor by an experienced builder to create such an instrument. These people are very passionate, highly skilled artisans, makers, builders, and tuners. It can take many years to develop the skills required to build and tune a quality handpan. This leads to a big problem in supply and demand, and pantams are known for being rare and hard to acquire, although this is rapidly changing with all the new people out there learning how to tune steel and make quality instruments (but you still have to watch out for scams and very low-quality instruments being sold for extreme prices). Even a few years ago there were only a handful of quality makers out there, now there are at least 30-40 very high quality builders out there, with many, many more ready to break into the upper echelons of sound quality. I can't wait to see how these instruments will continue to evolve!