De Sweet Pan

The steeldrum (pan) is the national musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago developed in the late 1930's. The pan is the only original non-electronic musical instrument invented in the twentieth century. Prior to the invention of pan, lengths of bamboo were used during street parades to beat out rhythms and these bands were known as 'Tamboo Bamboo Bands'. In the quest of a cleaner sound, old biscuit tins and caustic soda pans were first used to replace the bamboo. Spree Simon and Ellie Manette are considered the pan pioneers in developing this steeldrum to what it is today.

The steel band is made up of percussionists whose instruments are fashioned out of oil drums. The process for creating a pan begins with the the beating of the tip of the drum into a concave shape (sinking), marking the pan into sections and hammering each one to correspond to a certain pitch (grooving). The pan is then cut from the top of the drum at a depth that will define its overall pitch. Finally the pan is heated for tone, and fine-tuning is done with a small hammer to complete the process. Pans are played with pairs of rubber-tipped sticks.

The three basic types of pan are tenor pans that play melody, rhythm pans that play harmony, and bass pans. The steel band, which can contain numerous performers, can play a wide range of music which include, soca, calypso, classical, rock, reggae, jazz, pop, latin and rhythm and blues.

InstrumentNumber of DrumsMusic functionNumber of Notes
High Tenor1melody 28 to 30 notes
Low Tenor1melody 28 to 30 notes
Double Tenor2melody
 31 notes
Double Second2melody
counter melody
 32 to 34 notes
Double Guitar2harmony 20 notes
Triple Cello3low harmony
 24 notes
Four Cello4low harmony
 28 notes
counter melody
 40 notes
Tenor Bass4bass 24 notes
Bass6bass 18 notes (6x3)
9bass 27 notes (9x3)
12bass 36 notes (12x3)
Engine Room
  • Conga Drums (Tumba drums)
  • Trapset (drums)
  • Guiro (scratcher)
  • Iron (assorted)
  • Toc-Toc
  • Timbales
  • percussion
  • tenor pans are sometimes refer to as sorpano or lead pans.
  • double seconds are sometimes refer to alto pans.
  • tenor bass reinforces the bass for the bass lines.
  • bass can be one of the following, 6 bass, 9 bass or 12 bass.
  • all pans can either be painted or chromed.
  • front line section refers to tenors, double tenors and double seconds.
  • back line section refers to guitars, cellos and basses
  • engine room is known as the rhythm section of the band that includes: drums, congas, iron etc..

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