When Steel Talks

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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…you're welcome Bugs...

And merrytonetothebone; the one thing that I need to hear is, if it has'nt been as yet, the "PAN" played HINDU and or CHINES music, pan can do anything that involve note's, I'll post some Arabic, and Hungarian scales for U and BEDE to explore, and that's as far into my mind I'm gonna let U guy go, lol lol...

You will be most welcome Leslie...

merrytones, I hope yuh realize if ah take music lessons here after a few years ah might be able to take wey yuh job in Merry Tones, let this be ah warning. lol

you will be most welcome to that job anytime Cecil…lol….just say the word...

Not true......What is being discussed here is the Western/European system of music.  Many of the Eastern and African cultures used completely different systems.  Some of them have many more notes that the Western system.  Yes many more that 12 tones.  So sorry pan can't play anything involving notes unless it is based on the Western system.  For instance someone playing an un-fretted instrument like a violin can play a note between c and c sharp, however our ears will find that to be an unpleasant sound.   Topics involving music are generally complex and this is no exception.   I going to leave it here, but if you want to go further check out just intonation and equal temperament.



No Errol…please don't leave it there…we need to talk man…this is the purpose of this discussion…if you know something that will enlighten…please share...

Prof, can you shed some light on what Errol said about ah  un-fretted instrument playing a note between C and C#. what is that note called?

It seems like that note between C & C# is not concert pitch as the A440, it sound like its A450, some steelbands used to tune their pans on the road in that pitch and after the road they bring it back to the Concert Pitch A440, I don't know about Strings but I am sure that you can change to that pitch when ever you want to, (I am just Guessing bout that A440 and the A450, I am not a Pan Tuner just ah Pan Player)

Bede, you just tie-up meh brain more by saying some steelbands tuned their pan to that pitch. 

Cecil, Me and Birch Kellman had that discussion before and he said that's what he used to do with renegades, I don't know bout now since Professor Northcoat had mentioned in a Music Festival that all the Steelbands should tune their Pan to Concert Pitch A440.

Cecil, you ever try picking ah tune from a steelband record and your Pan in concert pitch and the steelband record just ah little higher?, not in C but between C & C#. 


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