The beginner’s guide to handpan. What is a handpan?

What is a handpan? The handpan is a rare new kind of mesmerizing musical instrument invented in the 21st century. The handpan’s lenticular shape looks like a UFO, a wok or a turtle shell. Part art and part instrument, the handpan is often referred to as a “sound sculpture”. Each handpan is handcrafted and unique. You can see hammer marks from its artisanal making process across the instrument. The relaxing tones and intuitive playing style of the handpan make it a gateway instrument, accessible to anyone.

Where is the handpan from? The handpan is the world’s newest musical instrument! It is the evolution of the Hang® (often called “hang drum”) which was an instrument invented in 2000 in Switzerland by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of PANArt, a steel-drum manufacturer located in Bern, Switzerland. The generic term “handpan” came later in 2007. It was coined by Kyle Cox of Pantheon Steel who was the second manufacturer of this kind of instrument, after the Swiss originators. Pantam is another name for handpans. Learn more about the origins of handpans.

How does a handpan work? A handpan is made out of two bowls of steel sheet glued together and tuned into a musical scale. On the top shell, the handpan has a center note which the inventors call the “ding”. It can be either dented outward (apex) or inward (inpex). The tone circle around it counts 7 or 8 harmonized notes played up and down in a zig-zag pattern. There is a hole on bottom shell of the handpan (called “Gu” by PANArt). This opening activates a deep bass note: the Helmholtz. Learn how to make a handpan.

What does the handpan sound like? Unlike the steel-drum which is played with mallets, the handpan is played by hand. As a result, it produces softer sounds, almost like raindrops… Playing a single note activates several overtones (typically, the octave and the fifth above the octave). These overtones give handpans a magical and rich layered sound. Learn about the enchanting science of handpans. 

How to play the handpan? You don’t need to be classically trained or to know music theory to play the handpan. Each handpan is tuned to a single musical scale so there are no wrong notes, and no fear of doing it wrong! So, anyone can learn how to play handpans: musicians and non-musicians alike! The handpan is an intuitive experience which transcends genders, ages, cultures and languages. It is used by hobbyists, performers, music therapists, cancer patients, educators and students. You can play too! Learn about the different handpans scales. 

Why are handpans so expensive? Handpans are tuned by hand (with the help of a hammer) and take several weeks to make. Because they are carefully handcrafted, handpans are expensive musical instruments. The price of a quality handpan ranges between $1,000 to $3,500 and tends to hold its value. Why is the handpan so expensive?

Where can I buy a handpan? Because they are still largely unknown to the public, you probably won’t find handpans at your local music store. Only a handful of skilled makers can build these instruments properly, and in small quantities. Remember, with handpans, it’s all about the sound and looks can be deceiving. What makes a good handpan?

Sylvain is proud to partner with some of the most reputable handpan makers and to offer high-quality handpans available for purchase right here on this website. Find the right handpan for you (among uplifting, melancholic or exotic scales). Click here to view the handpans available now, starting at $1,199.

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