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Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

In 2006 I experienced the good fortune of  attending a workshop conducted by legendary American Jazz luminary Barry Harris. His opening remarks to us have never left my mind to this day since (to me at least)  he seemed to describe the entire steelpan instrument family. I have always found this observation quite helpful as an introduction to music theory on pan.


He began like this as far as I can remember…”In the beginning, God created the universe and in it he placed twelve tones C, C#,D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# and B. After listening to them for a while he thought they sounded colourful so he called the group of notes the Chromatic (colourful) scale…He mulled over his creation for  a while then decided…You know what?..I think I’d better make two families out of you twelve tones. So he divided them into the Whole Tone families of C, D, E, F# G#, A# and C# D#, F, G, A and B….He then said …here’s what?... I’ll further subdivide these two families into two more sub-families and thus were born the Diminished family of C, Eb, F#, A…D, F, G# B, and E, G, Bb, C# and the Augmented family of C, E, G#...D, F#, Bb…E, G#, C and F, A, C#...Aha…let’s now make music…”


What struck me at once was that Barry, knowingly or not had described the note layout of the Chromatic Tenor pan, the Whole Double Second Pan, the Diminished Treble Guitar pans  and the Augmented Quads and Four-Cello.


So thus according to Barry Harris the Chromatic scale begat all music. These tones  which we will henceforth refer to as notes are separated by semi-tones which is the smallest distance between each note of the Chromatic Scale. So it follows that from C to C# is one semitone, from C# to D is another semitone, from D to D# another semitone and so on till get eventually get back to C.


For this first offering I have included a video I came across by Pebber Brown. Follow him as he discuses Major Scales, the Circle of 5ths/4ths, Key Signatures and Major and Minor Keys….do enjoy…


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BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!! The combination between your lectures and the online videos make for a FABULOUS FORMAT. 

This is great merrytones!!

Thanks Bertel and Claude...if you have anything to offer please do so too…it would also be interesting to hear panist's experiences with learning the pan playing craft and their experiences with theory thus far…let's keep the dialogue going…I'm hoping to put up something daily…for starters anyway...but I don't want to do all the talking...

Merrytone you can use the embed codes from YouTube to place the video directly into your post.

ok Pan Times I'll see for the next entry..I think I know what you are talking about...

merrytones, this is your Baby.

This is a very good Video all Arrangers and Players should have,

Len Boogzie Sharpe is one Arranger that goes way above Musical Structures, he is Unbelievable,

No traditionally structured music theory programme would begin with even mention of the Chromatic scale. I however decided to begin there since firstly I wanted to talk about my Barry Harris experience and secondly that is the scale most panists learn anyway from their peers “in the ‘yard”.


At this point bear with me while I digress about the utter madness it has to be to try and in most cases succeed in learning a ten and in recent times eight minute panorama tune the first time one walks in a panyard.  I began playing pan as a form 4 student at QRC, from about mid-year 1973. So when in ’74 I decided to brave the Merry Tones panyard I was kinda prepared...lil bit at least. But boy I still feel it for first-time players especially those who make the cut, because it can’t be easy to learn how to play for one, plus retain eight minutes of sometimes sheer madness, depending on the arranger. But that is another story.


Ok, back to the business at hand. In my opening salvo I missed out mentioning that two successive semitones comprise a tone. In other words the distance or interval between C and D is a tone. That is so because from C to C# is one semitone and the distance from C# to D is also one semitone. Two semitones equal one tone. But you would know that by now after viewing Pebber Brown’s video. He refers to them as half notes and whole notes respectively. Later on we will discuss the business of intervals. So according to Haffers, put tha’ word in yuh back pocket till later.


One more thing about Chromatics though. In the steelband world, we very casually and most times incorrectly talk about playing a G# or an Eb or even a C#. If you ask the average players for notes he might tell you “Ab major boy…the notes is G# C and Eb”. Eh?? Now he could be correct if the tune is playing in the key of B major but if the tune is in Eb major he ought to be saying Ab, C, Eb. Pebber would have mentioned the rational behind that too but I just wanted to introduce an important musical term.


Two notes that sound alike but are differently named are called enharmonic. The more popularly mis-named notes are Ab (G#), Db (C#), Gb (F#), A# (Bb) and D# (Eb). You may sometimes also, depending on the key signature encounter E# (F), B# (C), Fb (E).


So good…Take in this next video for a more in-depth discussion of the Chromatic scale…


Somebody years ago had told me that you can't go wrong if you stay with the Chromatic Scale,  

Bebe, that's like someone saying you can't go wrong spelling, if you stay with the alphabet.  The chromatic scale is just all the possible notes you can use.  Every note will not always be a good choice in every key and  tune,  but it possible to make every note work according to how it is approached and yes approaching it chromatically as a passing note can do it.  I don't think playing the chromatic scale for a solo will work too well  ......again this is an involved topic.



Thank you Merrytones



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