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Handpan Instruments: An Exploration of the Musical Magic

March 26, 2023 4 min read

If you're a fan of world music or just enjoy discovering unique and interesting instruments, you've probably heard of handpans. These beautiful and mysterious instruments have taken the musical world by storm, and for good reason. In this article, we'll dive deep into the world of handpans, exploring their history, design, playing techniques, and more. So sit back, relax, and let's take a musical journey together!

What is a Handpan?

To put it simply, a handpan is a musical instrument that is played by hand. It is a type of steel drum that is designed to produce a melodic and harmonic sound. It has a unique design that consists of two hemispherical shells that are joined together to form a convex shape. The top shell has a number of tone fields or notes, which are carefully crafted and tuned to produce a specific pitch.

History of Handpans

Handpans are a relatively new instrument, with the first model being invented in 2000 by a Swiss steelpan builder named Felix Rohner. Along with his partner Sabina Schärer, spent many years researching and developing the hangdrum, experimenting with different materials and designs. Today, this instruments are produced by many different makers all over the world, with each maker putting their own unique spin on the design and sound.

Handpan Design and Construction

The design of a handpan is both simple and complex. As mentioned, it consists of two hemispherical shells that are joined together to form a convex shape. The top shell has a number of tone fields or notes, which are carefully crafted and tuned to produce a specific pitch. The bottom shell is left open to allow the sound to resonate.

Handpans can be made from different types of steel alloys like stainless steel ember steel or nitrided steel. The steel is then carefully shaped and tuned using a process known as hammering, which involves striking the metal with a variety of tools to produce the desired shape and sound.

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As this percussion instrument is handmade, there are a variety of musical scales and designs, each with its own sound and style. Some of the most popular scales include D minor, C# minor, and Ake Bono.

Playing Techniques

Playing requires a unique and delicate touch. Unlike other percussion instruments, the handpan is played using the fingers and the palms of the hands. The player uses a combination of tapping, sliding,slapping and rolling techniques to produce a rhythm and obtain the desired melody.

This is also a very expressive instrument, with a wide range of dynamics and tonal variations. Players can use subtle variations in touch and pressure to produce a wide range of sounds, from soft and delicate to loud and powerful. However, it is an easy instrument to start with as it doesn't require music theory.

Musical Applications

Handpans are incredibly versatile instruments, with a wide range of musical applications. They are often used in world music and fusion genres, but can also be found in contemporary and experimental music as well.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the handpan is its ability to create a sense of calm and relaxation. The soothing and meditative qualities of the instrument have made it a popular choice for yoga and meditation practices, as well as for sound healing and music therapy.

Where to buy a handpan

If you're interested in learning more about this instrument or purchasing one for yourself, there are a number of resources available. Many makers have their own websites where you can browse their selection and place an order. There are also a number of online retailers and marketplaces that specialize in handpans and other unique musical instruments.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Handpan

1. Budget

Handpans can be expensive, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Before you start looking for a model, determine your budget and stick to it. Remember that the price is influenced by several factors, including the brand, the number of notes, the scale, and the quality of the steel.

2. Scale

Handpans come in different scales, which determine the notes that can be played on the instrument. The most popular scales include C Major, D Minor, and E Minor. Consider your musical preferences and the type of music you want to play before choosing a scale.

3. Number of Notes

The number of notes on a handpan can range from 7 to 13. The more notes, the more complex the sound. However, more notes also mean a higher price. Consider your skill level and musical goals before deciding on the number of notes.

4. Quality of Steel

The quality of steel used can significantly affect the sound quality and durability of the instrument. High-quality steel is more expensive but produces a better sound and lasts longer.

5. Brand

There are several brands of handpans on the market, each with its unique sound and quality. Do your research and read reviews before choosing a brand.

6. Customization Options

Some makers offer customization options, such as adding extra notes or engraving designs on the instrument. Consider these options if you want a more personalized handpan.


In conclusion, handpans are truly magical instruments that have captured the hearts and ears of musicians and music lovers all over the world. Whether you're a seasoned musician or simply someone who appreciates unique and interesting sounds, this instrument is sure to captivate and inspire you. 

alexandre zunino
alexandre zunino

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