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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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That one is a beyond me too Cecil…but I'll do some research online and get back to you...

I asked Liam Teague your question recently and he said that Yes, You can definitely play "quarter tones". He also indicated that It is very difficult to play the violin in tune since there are a number of different notes that can be elicited in between half steps….He didn't give a name for the "quarter tones" notes though…Check out the following attachment if you're an information junkie like me…


Hi again…I’m hoping that the first two videos have helped you in digesting the Chromatic scale, the Major scale and the Cycle of Fifths/Fourths. Doh frighten…we taking it real slow. Everything that I will discuss here has taken me many many years to just get comfortable with, far more be brave enough to try to explain. The thing is, I know where I came from and what was and still largely is not easily available to would be panists, so I have no problem helping anybody along the way. Even the armchair panists. You could still learn a thing or two.


You no doubt would have heard the expression “we playing in C”… What that simply means is that more or less the music you hear will consist of the notes of the C Major scale. The notes of C Major are as follows: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Just remember the alphabet and you will be safe.


Each successive note of any scale is the first note of a new scale. Each new scale formed this way is called a Mode of the scale in question. Modes were identified many centuries ago by the Greek mathematician, Phytagoras and are named as follows: (C) Ionian, (D) Dorian, (E) Phrygian, (F) Lydian, (G) Mixolydian, (A) Aeolian and (B) Locrian.  


Attached are two diagrams of the Fourths and Fifths Tenor illustrating the C Major and the Chromatic scale highlighting the enharmonic equivalents, as well as a video by Eric Blackmon discussing the Modes of the Major scale.



Nice Errol…here's another one….








Yes sir!  Professor Barry Harris :  the teacher of teachers.

Hey MASAI; Wah U hiding man ? ah know that U ain't in Belle Vue, gettin ready to leave again, for Canada to register a Utility Patent, the Williams Johnston Pan Impregnator Press...

sorry i did not see the next video with harmonizing scales,building chords triads and 7th. can you show that again. at end of the first video a soca grp kicked in.....

I plan to discuss that next…stay tuned...


Staying with the Major scale I want to now briefly visit the business of harmony and how chords are created and applied. The following is a general description of the term:

In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them.


A chord consists of three or more notes. A three note chord is called a triad. A triad is formed by simply selecting the first, third and fifth notes or the second fourth and sixth notes, and so on of any scale. So in the case of C Major, the available triads are CEG, DFA, EGB, FAC, GBD, ACE and BDF. A four note chord is called a Seventh Chord. A general description is as follows:

“A seventh chord is a chord consisting of a triad plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord's root.” Counting to seven from any given note will reveal its “Seventh”.


Thus C Seventh is B, D Seventh is C, A Seventh is G… and so on. The available Seventh Chords in C Major are as follows. CEGB, DFAC, EGBD, FACE, GBDF, ACEG and BDFA.


I want to now enter two important terms into the discussion. Those terms are Diatonic and Minor. Diatonic refers to the stepwise arrangement of the seven “natural” pitches (scale degrees) of a scale. So by this definition, the C Major scale is also called a Diatonic scale. It follows too that the chords described in the above paragraph should be referred to as Diatonic chords, since they are all created from one scale. While the distance or interval between each note of the Chromatic Scale is a semitone or half-step, the intervals of a Diatonic scale are a combination of both half and whole-steps or tones (as you should remember from the first video).


An interval of a half-step is called a Minor interval while a whole-step is called Major. The chord CEG is a Major chord because the distance from C to E is a Major interval, while the distance from E to G is Minor. This applies to the chords FAC and GBD as well. In the case of the chord DFA, the distance from D to F is Minor while the distance from F to A is Major. It follows thus that DFA, EGB and ACE are all Minor chords. The triad BDF is a Diminished triad which features Half-steps between B and D and D and F. The above principle differs slightly for some Seventh chords. But we will look at that later on.


Following are two videos by Andrew Wasson and Pebber Brown which will help to de-mistfy Diatonic chords and reinforce your understanding of all that we’ve touched on so far. 





Check out the following video by Karen Ramirez …she good too bad...


Leslie!  Proud of you for turning up the intellectual music fire on this site. Not hiding; just applauding.


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