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Originating in Trinidad in the late 30’s and is used heavily in Calypso, they are truly the life and soul of music. These traditional drums are concave and struck with mallets. You will have definitely seen these before. The modern steel pan drum was created at the turn of the century in Sweeden. Known commonly as a handpan or hangdrum (pronounced hah-ng), they are made from one piece of metal with the keys hammered into them. A convex, UFO-like looking instrument, they are played by striking them with the hand and fingers. They have become increasingly popular due to their hauntingly beautiful harmonics and their complex yet subtle tones. This article will look at these and the tongue drum which is a smaller hand drum in the same family. Other names for it are Tone Drum, Tank drum, Hank drum among others. We will also look at a Russian drum called the RAV drum, created only in 2013, it is a hybrid of the Tongue Drum and Handpan and is significantly cheaper that than the latter which as a beginner should be quite appealing.
Also known as a Hang Drum (pronounced hung drum), they are tuned to a particular scale such as the major, minor, harmonic minor, hijaz and so on. They have a deep, rich resonance and fantastic overtones which allow you to produce a movingly ethereal sound. They are the most impressive of the steel drums and each of these instruments is a masterpiece in its own right. Unlike the tongue drum and the RAV, the hang drum’s grooved impressions are hit into it with a hammer, whereas the keys for the others are cut into them. The backside of the hangdrum can also be played like an Afirance Udu. The makers of these have ceased production and as a result you will only be able to get them second hand. Consequently one of these will set you back at least $1000. If you are seriously looking to learn to play this instrument then you shouldn’t be put off by the price tag as it is well worth it. Producing a powerful awe-inspiring sound. That being said, as a beginner, you may want to first consider the RAV.
This is a revolutionary instrument – a combination of the handpan and the tongue. It is like the handpan in its size and shares the ability to produce a deep resonating tone. The newer model made in 2015 has thicker steel and is their best work to date. Both the original model and the current one can produce six partials (essentially a simple tone of which a complex one is composed) per tone. The sound for the RAV drum carries a lot further than the hangdrum whose reverb is a lot shorter. Not to its detriment, this allows more time between keystrokes and so ultimately more experimentation. The full and rounded sound is extremely meditative and the instrument is adept for slower playing. It is also the easier of the two to pick up for beginners. In fact, it is one of the easiest percussive instruments to pick up and produce something noteworthy. As well as this it is more durable and resilient whereas the hangdrum can get knocked out of tune over time and require a retune, whereas it’s incredibly unlikely the RAV will ever fall out of tune. This is all at a third of the price of the hangdrum.
Also is known as tone drum and tankdrum is much smaller than the hang and RAV. Given its mini size, you play it with small mallets, not your hands. The original tongue drums were made from wood while the steel tongue drums are made of steel (what gave it away?). It is a much more commercial instrument than the others, with HAPI and Kaizen being the main manufacturers and it being significantly cheaper than the others. It will only set you $200 at most. Its size means it is fantastically portable and whilst it doesn’t produce a sound as rich and full bodied as the others, you can still draw an impressive sound from it. They also look cool. That is the best word we could come up with to describe. They are just cool. If you are going to the park, the beach or anywhere really you may not want to carry around something as bulky and valuable as the hangdrum and at a fraction of the price, these are perfect. Originally fashioned from a propane tank, you can save yourself a bit of money and sculpt your own although you are probably best sticking with one made by a professional for now. It will sound and look better, emphasis on the looking better.
Our top 3 in terms of sound and quality and affordability are all manufactured by one company and that is Panyard who are in fact world renowned for their steel drums and with these 3 they have produced incredible budget drums for beginners whilst retaining their usual quality. The 3 sets are between $150 up to $220 and we have listed them in ascending price order. They all offer a great drum at a low price and aren’t some kids toy or a well-hammered trash can lid. These are all serious drums for first-time drummers to get to grips with a learn their trade and unlike the professional-grade drums, these won’t cost you hundreds of dollars! Whilst there is another producer called Fancy Pans who do similar drums at a similar price however we don’t feel that their quality compares to Panyard.
For a little over $150, you are getting a sturdy well constructed 16″ steel drum, mallets, a tabletop stand, a carrying case and a beginners guide book which is pretty incredible. Easy to play straight out of the box, very tough to master this wonderful pan is perfect for a first timer looking to get their groove on. This is great for adults and children alike and you can tell that the drum has had real craftsmanship go into its design and it feels durable and sounds great. It is very portable and easily fits inside the carrying case and weighs less than 5 pounds.
They can be a bit pitchy and after a while you will need to send them in to get re-tuned, but Panyard makes this hassle-free. One other issue is that the stand is a bit cheap and plastic so not as durable, which is a shame as otherwise we would have no negatives for it at all. Overall though this represents fantastic value for money and we would highly recommend it for any rookies looking to learn to play the steel drums.
This is the same as the set above accept with this kit for $30 you get a height adjustable and collapsible stand which means you don’t need to play it on a tabletop, as the stand will be freestanding. Great if you want to stick it in a corner of a room.
It is $20 more than the kit at number 2 however for that price you get a chrome kit which looks better and does add a bit to the sound. For a student, the cheaper one will be more than fine.
So if you read our article you would know that hang drums are no longer produced and considered a rarity and so they cost a LOT. As such we won’t be recommending any for a beginner, the same goes for RAV drums. We would strongly recommend you start with a steel tongue drum and then once you are hooked look into these. If you really want to buy one then here are a few to consider:
Unlike the category above this will not be such a let down for beginner steel drummers. We love these little tongue drums and they are perfectly priced that a first-time player won’t have to sell their own grandma to get their hands on one. These little drums look incredible and are beyond fun to play and tricky to master. People struggle to walk past these without having a go and they are a real crowd favorite.
|Model||Name/ Rating||Summary||Check Price|
HAPI HDMINIDAKE Tongue Drum
Score: (4.70 / 5)
|Mini-drum, immaculately crafted and perfect for travel. Despite size, incredible range and depth of sound|
HAPI HDSLIMGMJ Steel Drum
Score: (4.75 / 5)
|Larger and easier to play. Wonderful overtones. Fantastic drum at a mid-range price|
Score: (4.60 / 5)
|Immaculate craftsmanship. Hauntingy beautiful. Most expensive|
In at our number one spot is the mini-master of tongue drums by the world-renowned manufacturers, HAPI. HAPI have stepped into the market and started producing the highest quality tongue drums that both look stunning, sound stunning and are very affordable. These are works of true art and in their mini tongue drum they have created a supremely portable tongue drum. It is a smaller drum but retains an impressively big sound full of rich, warm and haunting tones. This is truly a feat of audio engineering.
They are truly effortless to play and anyone can get a really nice sound out of it without great technique as there are no wrong notes. However to make it truly sing takes time and practice, but once you have you will captivate people. It is fantastically fun to explore and experiment with this drum and wonderfully relaxing – playing on it is therapeutic and soothing, so much so that it is hard not to feel serene with one of these in your laps. The padded travel bag is perfect and holds it snuggly so you don’t have to worry about damaging it. The only downside is that given its size you don’t have much room to play as the larger models so it takes a bit of getting used to. It is both a pro and a con because due to its stature it weighs in at a featherweight 3.5 lbs so you probably won’t even realize it is in your bag until you open it!
All in all though for under $200 this is remarkable value for money and one of the most incredible modern instruments available.
In our number 2 spot is another one by HAPI which may not surprise you, as they demonstrate again that they have mastered these little drums. Again it is immaculately and stylishly finished and looks gorgeous. This one is under $300 and it larger than our number one spot which does make it easier to play but of course makes it slightly less portable. It weighs twice as much at 7lbs but this is still incredibly light with the padded carry case it is still remarkably easy to take around with you. As result of this increased size you get richer tone and sound from the drum and a longer lasting resonance with wonderful overtones. You will feel that you have more range in the gaps and so not only is the tone more full-bodied but you will have slightly more versatility.
This stylish black drum is again a work of art that looks and sounds incredible. Perfect for a beginner and onwards, in terms of sound it is a step up from the mini version and so for anyone serious we would strongly recommend it.
A little pricier than the HAPI drums at $425 this 9 tones tongue drum offers a lot when it comes to range and depth. It is finely tuned and the resonance is wonderful on it. You get some wonderful harmonics on it. Whilst we prefer the HAPI drums this is a great alternative
These drums are made to be picked up and played wherever you are, preferably on a tropical paradise somewhere. However, just because anyone can pick one up and play it, doesn’t mean they can play it well. There is buckets of skill and practice that goes into getting the best out of these. An understanding of pressure, sensitivity, dynamics and tone are all required in order to captivate people. Once you have mastered them though they sing with an ethereal voice that is incredibly moving.
If you are ever lucky enough to ever own a hang drum, this is what you have to look forward to: