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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Thanks for the lesson, Bro.

Anytime Gerard…glad you appreciated it...

Yes people…me again… So far since we started this music chat we have covered the Chromatic scale, the Circle of fifths, Major and Minor scale construction, Diatonic chords of the Major scale and Music Terms used in Steelband names. Before we go any further let’s step back a bit and begin chatting about notation. First off let’s talk a little about rhythm. The first thing we have to understand about the instruments that make up the Pan family is that they are all percussive instruments. By that I mean that to play any Pan you have to strike it, just as you would a drum. Consider Lord Kitchener’s classic line…”she hit it…pang …she hit it…pang...”. Pan is part of the family of what is referred to as pitched or tuned percussion instruments. Other instruments like the Timpani, Xylophone, Tubular bells even the Acoustic Piano, fall into the category of tuned percussion instruments. That being said, it stands to reason that if Pan had no notes it would sound no different to a kettle drum, or any drum of an African drumology unit.


It is from this notion that I want to begin to try to explain a little about the business of reading music. It really is not as complex as some people imagine. Just as with any language, you have an alphabet, words, sentences, punctuation. Music is no different. We have already been introduced to the Chromatic scale, the phonetic part of the musical alphabet. Another important part of the musical alphabet is the family of written symbols also called notes that are written on a group five lines called a Staff. These symbols written on the lines and between the spaces of the Staff are used to indicate the twelve tones used in the Western music system. A combination of these notes and several punctuation marks like rests for example, which are used to indicate the abscence of sound, make up the written music language.


The following videos illustrate of how music is written and read.






Prof, just checking in to see how yuh doing.

Yeah man…I goin' good…trying to decide what next to post since I'm going on a lil vacation next week…very happy with the general response though…seems like I must be a good teacher since the class has no questions…lol…but it's all good…you'll hear from me again by the weekend...

Good man, enjoy your vacation, maybe when you return the class might have a few questions.


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