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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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merrytonetothebone; I have a query for U, Y do ALL so called Pannist have the SAME JAZZ SOLO APPROACH in all there music, when sometimes a BLUE'S, ROCK or even a simple CALYPSO SOLO, and in most cases NO SOLO is warranted/needed there???

JJJ…I believe it comes down to what a person knows and their willingness to continue learning. Most of us may start off by mimicking what we hear others play. Take the famous guitarist Wes Montgomery he began by imitating Charlie Christian until he eventually came in to his own style. The problem locally is that most pannists have no interest in music education so whatever they know is enough. You really can't force someone to take music literacy seriously. It has to be a personal decision...

THERE U GO MERRYTONE; I knew it would peak your curiosity, now U have eleven more, that will take U to 120 in all different type's of mode's/scale's, U R doing great keep goin man, U R inside Anthony Williams head with this, so feel free if need BE...

Let me help out meh West Side Buddy BEDE here, ( LP = Long Playing) remember in the old day's the LP was 33 1/3 rpm regular speed, and the 45s @ 45 rpm ( RPM = revolutions per minute), of course the pitch's will vary from a semi tone or 1/2 step, from regular speed/slow to fast/higher, and the 8 track's, Cassette's, and CD's also move's the pitch up a bit, the humidity can sometimes changes the pitch ratio, when it's warm or hot the tone or note flatten's, when it's cold or normal the pitch is stablized, a perfect example is the St James North Stars 1962 Music Festival, the key in which the piece "Voices of Spring" was written is Bb, but we transposed it to B for two reason's, (1) the player's comfort or ease, and (2) the humidity at the time was in spring approaching summer, so when Williams and "Rock" modulate/ fine tune the pan's everything was perfect, the piece was in it's domain the key of Bb, as for Dr.Sydney Nortcote, in the 1956 Music Festival at the Roxy Theater, he said the the steel band "Should Not" play the classic's, which pissed Anthony Williams off, in 1958 there was no Music Festival due to the "Polio" epidemic, in 1960 Dixie Land won with "Agne's Daei" and Invaders 2nd with "In a Monastery Garden", so in 1962 we was ready for Dr. Nortcote, the Adjudicators were Dr. Herbert Wiseman and Dr. Sydney Nortcote, after the performances, the marks and results were read, first was Dr Wiseman commented that he found the "TUNING" was better in previous festivals, but was in high in praise for Hart's Ping Pong, which was "TUNED" by Herman"Rock" Johnston, at that time with North Stars.
Dr. Nortcote went on stage to address the audience, he noted that the musical sensitivity has not progressed as much as the technical efficiency ( the tuning ) which was remarkable, and when one takes music that has an existance in other spheres ( classics ), and adapt it for the steel orchestra; there are limits inthe license that you may allow yourselves, these are documented proof that I have from the 1962 Music Festival...

Very interesting Leslie, you change you name now or what, BTW, Hart's Ping Pong, you talking bout Kelvin Hart, Ping Pong Soloist Winner? One thing I can say is that these Music Information are very Interesting, thks fellas,  

Yes people…me again. Let’s chat a little more about intervals. Now, I really should have introduced this subject earlier…but since the thing start like if we chattin’ in a panyard…yuh know how it is...Anyway an Interval is the distance between any two notes on the music staff. Notes on the music staff progress in either Steps (semitones) or Leaps (tones and wider). Take for instance the Chromatic scale. Each note in that scale are a semitone apart. An interval of a semitone is called a Minor interval…(C to C#). An interval of a tone (two semitones) is called a Major interval…(C to D). All the notes of the two Half tone scales are a Major interval apart. Namely: C D E F# G# A# and C# D# F G A B).


Important to remember is that intervals are counted from any note in question to the target note. So for instance the interval C to F is a fourth because it comprises four letter names. The interval C to G is a fifth since it comprises five letter names. An interval of a fourth or a fifth is also called a Perfect interval. The same counting principle applies to a sixth, a seventh and so on but the name of any interval other than the fourth or fifth may change to Major, Minor, Augmented or Diminished. The intervals present in the C major scale are as follows. C-D (Major 2nd), C-E (Major 3rd), C-F (Perfect 4th), C-G (Perfect 5th), C-A (Major 6th), C-B (Major 7th), C-C (Octave or Unison)


Getting the hang of intervals could be a little intimidating at first, but there is no way around it. Intervals are as essential as punctuation is to language…which music is anyway.


Attached is a chart displaying the intervals on the tenor pan as well as a video on the subject. 



merrytonetothebone; my Gist is a question, if U R teaching theory via intervals in the steel pan sphere, would'nt it be in the best interest of the student 's if U use the tenor pan instead of the key board ??? Williams and I always agree that to learn the pan/instrument first, will give U or the student/pupil a head start on sight reading afterwards...

see the attached file…intervals.jpg

Staying with intervals, let’s examine how melodies are made. The following bits and pieces of familiar songs will help to illustrate intervals at work. It was quite natural for most of the top kaiso bards of yesteryear to write music that spelt entire chords or scale progressions. All my examples will be in the key of F Major. I will illustrate the chords and scales using the alphabet, since we haven’t yet explored the staff. If you have an instrument at hand follow and see for yourself.

First up let’s look at Sa Sa Yea. A C E…D C Bb A G (F). A C E is the chord A minor. D to (F) are the notes of F major descending from the 6th.

Blueboy’s Wine on Something and the old kaiso standard Kaiser Willhelm have the first four notes of F Major in common. Wine on Something: F G A Bb A G F. Kaiser Willhelm: F F F…F G A Bb G G G. F to Bb is a Perfect 4th.

Perhaps nobody did it like the Grandmaster Lord Kitchener. Here are a few examples. Sweet Pan: F A C D D A C F D D A C F D. Spelling a major 6th.

Margie spells a major 6th too: C A….F A C F D A C.

The first notes of Rainorama spells out the chords F major and G minor: F A C…F A C… F A C A C B Bb…/G Bb D…G Bb D…G Bb D Bb D C# C.

Trouble in Arima spells F major 6th and Gm7: F F A C D A…G G Bb D F E.

The chorus of Jericho employs the best example of a melody over a 2-5-1 progression: G….…./G……./G……./G A G F…E F E D…C D C Bb…A Bb A G F.

The verse of the old folk standard Matilda is made up almost entirely of the three primary chords one, four and five: F A C…/Bb D F…./C E G E F D C Bb A A A G F.

Finally the chorus of Yellow Bird spells out the chords Cm, F7 and Bb major.: G G C Eb G…./F F Bb D F../F F A C Eb…F F Bb D F.

Tax your grey matter lil bit and see how many more examples you can come up with and let’s compare notes.

Attached is another video on intervals by Pat David as well a as a chart of the Tenor pan illustrating the seven diatonic traids available in the key of C major.



How allyuh goin’ people?...today I thought I would endulge you in a little Pan history lesson as it were and discuss Musical Terms as they relate to Steelband names over the years. Or viceversa. The following is a list bands that come to mind along with common definitions of their name. If I forgot any (probably bands that no longer exist?) let me know.


Bar 22

Bar: In written Western music the bar-line came to be used, a vertical line through the stave, to mark metrical units or bars (= measures). By the later 17th century the bar-line had come to be used immediately preceding a strong beat, so that a bar came to begin normally with an accented note. The double bar or double bar-line marks the end of a section or piece.


Chord Masters…

Chord: A chord is the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes. The adjective is chordal. The study of harmony involves the correct placing of chords with relation to each other.



Cord: String. On piano refers to use of the soft pedal which controls whether the hammer strikes one or three strings.


Crescendoes Musicale:

Crescendo: Growing; (i.e. progressively louder) (contrast diminuendo).


Diatonic Steel Orchestra…

Diatonic: Diatonic, in music, any stepwise arrangement of the seven “natural” pitches (scale degrees) forming an octave without altering the established pattern of a key or mode—in particular, the major and natural minor scales. Some scales, including pentatonic and whole-tone scales, are not diatonic because they do not include the seven degrees.


Harmonites, Spree Simon Harmonics,

Harmony: Harmony describes the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes and the technique governing the construction of such chords and their arrangement in a succession of chords. Following the convention of writing music from left to right on a horizontal set of lines (staff or stave), harmony may be regarded as vertical, as opposed to counterpoint, which is horizontal. In other words harmony deals with chords, simultaneous sounds, and counterpoint with melody set against melody.


Valley Harps,

Harp: The harp is an instrument of great antiquity, represented from as early as 3000 B.C. in Sumeria. The form of the instrument has varied, but the modern double-action harp, a development of the early 19th century, is in general orchestral use. The strings are tuned in flats,starting from a bottom C flat, with seven pedals, each of which can change a given set of strings to a natural or a sharp. The C pedal, therefore, in its three positions, can make all the Cs on the instrument flat, natural or sharp. Other forms of harp survive. The Aeolian harp, with strings of the same length and pitch but of different thicknesses, was to be placed by an open window, its sounds produced by the wind blowing through the strings. Various forms of Celtic harp are still in use.


Merry Tones …

Tone: Tone is a literary compound of composition, which shows the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work.[1] Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes. Works of literature are often conceptualized as having at least one theme, or central question about a topic; and how the theme is approached within the work constitutes the work's tone.


Magic Notes…

Note: A note in English is either a single sound or its representation in notation. American English refers to a single sound as a tone, following German practice.



Melody: A melody (from Greek μελῳδία, melōidía, "singing, chanting"),[1] also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm, while more figuratively, the term can include successions of other musical elements such as tonal color. It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. A line or part need not be a foreground melody.


Music Makers, Musical Gems…

Music: Music is an art form whose medium is sound. Generally, a song is considered the smallest standalone work of music, especially when involving singing. The common elements of music are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. The word derives from Greek μουσική (mousike; "art of the Muses").[1] In its most general form the activities describing music as an art form include the production of works of music, the criticism of music, the study of the history of music, and the aesthetic dissemination of music.


Rhythm Rockers,

Rhythm: Rhythm, an essential element in music in one way or another, is the arrangement of notes according to their relative duration and relative accentuation


Curepe Scherzando…

Scherzando: Playfully


Scherzo: A light, "joking" or playful musical form, originally and usually in fast triple metre, often replacing the minuet in the later Classical period and the Romantic period, in symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and the like; in the 19th century some scherzi were independent movements for piano, etc.


Laventille Serenaders,

Serenade: In music, a serenade (or sometimes serenata, from the Italian word) is a musical composition, and/or performance, in someone's honor. Serenades are typically calm, light music. The word serenade is the translation of the Italian word serenata, derived from the word sereno, which means "calm".



Sforzando: Made loud (i.e. a sudden strong accent)


Pan Stereonettes,

Stereo: Stereophonic sound or, more commonly, stereo, is a method of sound reproduction that creates an illusion of directionality and audible perspective. This is usually achieved by using two or more independent audio channels through a configuration of two or more loudspeakers (or stereo headphones) in such a way as to create the impression of sound heard from various directions, as in natural hearing.



Song: A song is an artistic form of expression based on sound, generally considered a single (and often standalone) work of music with distinct and fixed pitches, pattern, and form. It can be wordless or with words.



Sound: In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air or water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.


Symphonettes, Potential Symphony, Nostrand Symphony, San Juan East Side Symphony, San Steel Symphony, West Side Symphony…

Symphony: Originally indicating a generally instrumental section or composition, as in the case of the brief instrumental introduction to Monteverdi's opera Orfeo, the symphony came to be the principal serious orchestral form of the later 18th century and thereafter.



Syncopation: In music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is a general term for "a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm": a "placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.



Metronome:metronome is any device that produces regular, metrical ticks (beats, clicks) — settable in beats per minute. These ticks represent a fixed, regular aural pulse; some metronomes also include synchronized visual motion (e.g. pendulum-swing). The metronome dates from the early 19th century, where it was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815 as a tool for musicians, under the title"Instrument/Machine for the Improvement of all Musical Performance, called Metronome".[1]

The metronome is used by musicians to help keep a steady tempo as they play, or to work on issues of irregular timing, or to help internalize a clear sense of timing and tempo. The metronome is also often used by composers as a standard tempo reference, to indicate the intended tempo for the piece.

Two more...

Dixieland, Dixie Harps

Dixie: "Dixie", also known as "I Wish I Was in Dixie", "Dixie's Land", and other titles, is a popular American song. It is one of the most distinctively American musical products of the 19th century,[1]and probably the best-known song to have come out of blackface minstrelsy.[2] Although not a folk song at its creation, "Dixie" has since entered the American folk vernacular. The song likely cemented the word "Dixie" in the American vocabulary as a toponym for the Southern United States.

Although most sources credit Ohio-born Daniel Decatur Emmett with the song's composition, other people have claimed to have composed "Dixie", even during Emmett's lifetime. Compounding the problem of definitively establishing the song's authorship are Emmett's own confused accounts of its writing, and his tardiness in registering the song's copyright. The latest challenge has come on behalf of the Snowden Family of Knox CountyOhio, who may have collaborated with Emmett to write "Dixie".

Samba Boys...

Samba: (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈsɐ̃bɐ]) is a Brazilian musical genre and dance style originating in Brazil, with its roots in Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions, particularly Angola and the Congo.[1] Although there were various forms of samba in Brazil in the form of various popular rhythms and regional dances that originated from the drumming, samba as music genre is seen as a musical expression of urban Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of Imperial Brazil.


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