The true name of the steeldrum instrument is the "Pan," and the name of pan players is "Panmen". The birth of the pan came from Trinidad and Tobago, a twin-island state seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, in the southern region of the Caribbean.
Originally, specialized craftsmen would use heat and a hammer to “sink” the empty oil drums. The pan tuner would then use a hammer to create indentations, which would form the basic notes. Later, the tuner would use a strobe, a tuning instrument, to obtain the final notes. Today, large companies use sheets of steel to form the steel pan. The art of tuning each pan is still left to the specialist.
Africans comprised the majority of the population of Trinidad & Tobago by the end of the 19th century. Drumming was stopped for fear of messages being sent, thus creating that hunger for music and new instruments. Music being such an important part of the culture, the people of Trinidad experimented with sticks, bamboo, cans, pans, and bottles. Then the discarded oil drum was discovered. It was realized that by constantly beating the surface of the oil drum, indentations were formed, each creating a different sound, giving birth to the steel pan.
The steel drums are the only musical instruments that have been internationally accepted in the 21th century. They were born in Trinidad and Tobago and have developed over the years. Each instrument has similarity to the conventional musical instruments. The band comprises tenors, double tenors, double seconds, triple guitars, four cello, tenor bass, low bass, and percussion.
The tonal range of the six essential types of Pans is limited. The Tenor Pan, for example, typically has a range of 28-33 notes and the Bass Pan typically has a tonal range of only 3 to 4 notes. Accompanying percussion instruments provide an African, Caribbean, or Latin flavor to the music.
The tonal quality of each pan is dictated by its physical design. Pans can be identified by the length of its skirt. The shorter the skirt and deeper the face of the pan, the higher will be its pitch. Here are more detailed descriptions of each of the six essential types of pans in a Steelband Orchestra:
|Tenors:||Lead soprano in the Orchestra. It carries the melody. Solo parts can be played at any given time. Length of skirt: 5 inches.|
|Double Tenor:||Carries the melody, and is an octave lower than the tenor. It harmonizes the melody with the music of the rest of the Orchestra. Length of skirt: 8 inches. Both the tenor and double tenor are the only pans that fuse the other elements of the Orchestra together.|
|Double Second:||Together with the guitar pans are the most important pans in the Orchestra. It carries the harmony of the tune being played. The strumming, synchopating Double Second is known as the "voice" of the Orchestra. Its meter ranges from two to four beats. Length of skirt: 12 inches. (Like the string section of any band.)|
|Guitar:||Carries the harmony of the tune being played. When combined with the Double Second become the core of the steelband and this is where you focus your "ear". It has a meter of two beats. Could be double or triple Guitar pans. Length of skirt: 15 inches. (Like the string section of any band.)|
|Tenor Bass:||Part of the bass section of the Orchestra. It gives the bass section its aroma. It holds the bass line at an octave above the Rhythm Bass. It comprises four pans. Length of skirt: 30 inches.|
|Low Bass:||Part of the bass section of the Orchestra. It gives music its depth while supplying a continuous flow of music. It comprises six pans. Length of skirt: 48 inches. (Like the kettledrum of a classical musical Orchestra.)|