Handpans are relatively new instruments that captivate the listener with their out-of-world magical sound.
Not only is their sound interesting but so are their looks. They look like tiny UFOs or shields from The Middle Ages or even steel turtle shells.
Handpans are getting more popular every day, but since the handpan is a relatively new instrument, there are still many people who don’t know the name or have never seen the instrument live.
There is even confusion among the people who are familiar with the instrument, as everybody calls them by a different name.
However, in recent years as the handpan world has become more popular, some of the terms have solidified, so now it’s easier to talk about the correct terminology.
What is the Difference Between A Handpan And A Hang Drum?
There is no difference between a Handpan, Hang, Hang Drum, Pantam, metal drum, and Space Drum, as these are all the names that people have used in the past to refer to the instrument that is most commonly called a handpan today. It’s called the handpan in Europe and the Americas, and the pantam in Israel and the Middle East.
Handpans are melodic percussion instruments made from steel and belong to the idiophone instrument family.
The official name of the instrument today is handpan, but for 20 years, many people have created different names for them, some of which can be confusing.
Additionally, people often mix up the names Hang and Hang Drum. The nameHang comes from the PanArt brand in Switzerland and was the first handpan ever made. Similarly, Hang Drum is an incorrect name that people created by combining the name of the first handpan, Hang, with the word drum, since the instrument looked and played like a drum.
The History Of The Handpan
Handpans are steel drums that were created by PanArt in Switzerland in 2000. They decided to call the instrument “Hang,” which meant “hand” in a Swiss German dialect.
The Swiss couple Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer were inspired by Caribbean steel drums and created Hang by reversing them, adding a bottom shell, and changing them to be played by hands rather than sticks.
The instrument they first created had a lenticular shape with two steel half-shells glued together. It resembled a small UFO, a steel turtle shell, or a shield from the Middle Age era.
The most amazing thing about the instrument other than its design was the sound. The sound was so powerful, relaxing, and ethereal it was taking the listeners on a journey to magical places.
The Hang instruments also had amazing percussive qualities, bringing the melody and the percussion world together in one mesmerizing instrument.
When the first batch of handpans was created, it was a limited amount and they were sold only to chosen individuals.
Back in the day, there was a limited number of Hang players, consisting of buskers and travelers who were showing and introducing the instrument to the public, especially in Europe and the U.S.A.
As it was an unknown instrument, people were uncertain about the name.
As the instrument looked and played like a drum, most people learned the instrument name “Hang Drum,” which was more popular than the original name “Hang,” thanks to YouTube and social media videos of the instrument.
Later, during the 2010s, other makers started producing these instruments and gave different names to their creations. So, new names were coming into play, such as Pantam, Space Drum, and sound sculptures. As it became more popular both on the streets and the Internet, people who didn’t know what to call these new drums were constantly coming up with new terms: hand drums, hand drums, steel drums, metal drums, tank drums, and so on.
Eventually, the community of the instrument decided on a known, official name for the instruments: handpan. It refers to hands, since the instruments were played by hands and pan, which refers to the shape and the material of the instrument.
That’s why today, handpan is the official name of these instruments. Hang only refers to the first handpans made by PanArt. PanArt started its production more than 10 years ago, so there are actually only a limited number of Hangs around.
In Israel and Middle Eastern countries like Iran, the name “Pantam” is usually used instead of handpan, which is also an accepted name.
To put it another way, handpan and pantam are the generic terms like guitar, while Hang and Space Drum are special instruments from specific brands. So we can say that Hang to handpans what Fender is to guitars; that is, referring only to particular guitars from a specific brand.
Handpan vs Hang: Which Is Best For You?
Since Hangs are the first instruments and their number is quite limited, they are sold for very high prices due to their nostalgic value.
However, handpans today are produced with better technique and can play a wider range of notes. The material and the overall sonic qualities are far better than Hangs.
They can be made of stainless steel, ember steel, or nitrided steel in different sizes.
Additionally, there are countless different scale choices and options to order custom-made ones. You can order handpans from hundreds of different makers.
Conversely, Hangs are old instruments you can only find in the second-hand market.
They only have 7 to 9 notes, the scale choices are limited, the material choice is only nitrided steel and the acoustics are weaker than modern handpans.
However, due to their collectible status and nostalgia factor, they are sold for very high prices starting from $5000 and going up to $15000.
If you don’t have the money and aren’t a collector, I highly recommend you start with a modern handpan.
If you feel that modern handpans are also too expensive for you, there’s a similar instrument called the RAV drum.
While there are core differences, RAV drums are similar instruments to handpans in terms of looks, playing techniques, and sound.
They are built with different techniques than handpans, and they sound deeper, slightly weaker, and have slightly less percussive qualities. Their sound is more suited to meditation and relaxing sessions, and they are somewhat more affordable, starting from $650.
There are also steel tongue drums, or Tongue Drums, which can be described as small versions of RAV drums, as they have the same production technique.
Tongue Drums are way smaller than handpans and RAV drums and their sound is significantly weaker.
Steel Tongue Drums are considered the most basic type of steel drums and are quite affordable, starting from $100.
Is a handpan a drum?
Yes, handpans are a variety of steel drums that belong to the idiophone instrument family.
They are considered melodic percussion instruments, and their sound is produced by hitting the note areas on the tonefield (tone circle) and the center, which vibrates the whole instrument.
The most important characteristic of the instrument is the Helmholtz resonance. The Helmholtz resonance is the phenomenon of the vibration of the whole instrument, which results in a deep bass tone.
Helmholtz resonance can be activated with any sound you create with a handpan. But to hear it alone you can hit the Gu, the hole on the bottom shell.
Is the handpan difficult to learn?
As handpans have a scale with specific notes, they are pretty easy to learn and play without any musical knowledge.
When you hit the notes with the proper technique and stay in a rhythm, it is very easy to create unique-sounding magical melodies.
You can create melodies hitting the notes on the tonefield (tone circle) or the Ding (the center note). On the tone circle usually, there are 7 to 13 notes.
Some makers today also add tone circles to the bottom shell creating instruments with many different notes.
Handpans are some of the easiest musical instruments to learn. However, they are hard to master.
Creating basic melodies and playing to an intermediate level is quite easy as the striking technique is pretty straightforward, but deploying advanced techniques and becoming a master requires training with complex rhythms and melodies.
How much do Handpans weigh?
Handpans weigh between 5 lbs (2.2 kg) to 11 lbs (5 kg). Their diameter varies between 17.7” (45 cm) and 25.6” (65 cm), while their height ranges from 5.9” (15 cm) to 11.8” (30 cm).
Handpan weight depends on the material and the size of the instrument.
What is inside a handpan?
Handpans are created like steel shells with a hole on the bottom of the instrument. So, inside, the handpan is empty.
Handpans’ shells are made of nitrided steel, stainless steel, and ember steel. They are usually 0.9 mm to 1 mm thick.
How often do Handpans need tuning?
Usually, annual tuning is enough for a handpan that is regularly played. However, the requirement of tuning depends on the condition of the instrument.
Handpans are delicate instruments. When they get damaged, they go out of tune immediately.
So, if you take good care of your handpan, you can go a year or even two without fine-tuning.
However, if something falls on your instrument or if you bump it somewhere, you might need a tuning days or weeks after you purchased the instrument.
Handpans are relatively new yet magical instruments that take you to mystical places with their majestic sound. As it is a new instrument, the terminology of the handpan world is just settling in.
Handpan is the generic term or name of the instrument, while Hang is the name of the first handpan-style steel drums made by Panart in the early 2000s, which became the father of handpans today.
The term Hang drum is a misconception created by players and listeners in the instrument’s early days as it looked and played like a drum. However, that is not the correct term nowadays.
The correct names used today for the instrument are handpan, pantam, and steel drum.