Functionality of the handpan, hang drum, steelpan, how it works

If you have arrived at the search for how a handpan works, you have probably seen one and wondered the same thing as us at first, but how can the handpan make such beautiful music?

How does a handpan work?

By machining nitrided steel into a certain shape, it has dimples that are tuned to a diatonic scale. When struck, the dimples emit the notes. The tone is produced by affecting the air inside, which is released through a hole in the lower half of the handpan. They are usually tuned to a single scale, so even without musical knowledge, almost anyone can make beautiful music with a well-tuned handpan.

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How does a Handpan produce a sound?

The sounds produced by a handpan are simply vibrations of sound fields generated on the surface of the handpan.

Each membrane has a different size. The larger the field, the lower or deeper the sound. The smaller it is, the higher the note.
The notes vibrate in the vacuum of the two halves, are naturally amplified and released through the lower hole. Melodies are created by striking the upper part of the handpan with the hands. The fingers and thumbs or other parts of your hands striking the various notes create the tones.

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In the upper part of the handpan are all the notes. They are known as dimples and are inverted depressions of the steel in certain sizes. When struck, they produce a sound. In most cases, the lower section is uniform, without dimples, with a hole in the bottom that releases the sound, the notes, produced by striking the upper section around the dimples.

Must read: Which handpan to start with?

What is the diatonic scale?

A diatonic scale has seven pitches. It consists of five whole tones and two semitones for each octave.

Let's take a handpan with eight notes (7+ the DING). You can see how easy it is to apply a perfect diatonic scale to the instrument. Of course, handpans are not limited to these notes. Instruments are often made with more notes. They are usually more expensive. The more notes there are, the greater the margin for error in tuning, and it may be that a mediocre manufacturer considers the highest notes to be quite quiet.

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Does a handpan only work with your hands?

The name says it all, but there are quite a few accessories you can buy to play on your handpan.

Use gloves to play on your handpan.

First of all, let's talk about gloves. You are still playing with your hands, but gloves bring changes to the sound of your instrument. The notes will be noticeably shorter, a little duller, and the volume will be lower.

Use mallets to play on your handpan.

You can also play your handpan with mallets. However, I do not recommend this and you should only play very lightly and gently. Your handpan will go out of tune much faster. The different buffers on the mallets produce different tones and resonances. However, this is not the case for me. I feel like a steel drum again and want my tuning to last a long time.


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So a handpan is like a drum?

In a way it is similar, because the beating of the handpan produces the sound and the notes, but unlike a drum, the steel does not produce the notes by being under tension.

Rather, the opposite is true, as the steel note areas are subjected to what is called compressive stress. This means that the steel is being pushed outward. In reality, the steel is deformed. Each note is a carefully deformed area to a certain extent - each note works in harmony with the others in a certain scale.

Not only do you have the note as air, but through a very clever process, harmonics are introduced to further enrich the sound. The distinctive vibrational frequencies are also provided.

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Is it difficult to learn handpan?

It is nice to own a handpan, but in order to operate a handpan, one must learn to play it. Fortunately, unlike most musical instruments, the beauty of the handpan is that you can be making music in an hour. You are very unlikely to be out of tune, especially if you bought a good one. Since the handpan is intuitive, it can be played improvisationally.

Rest assured that it is very easy to play handpan. You may need an hour to get used to your handpan and to hit it properly. After that hour, you will begin to understand the basic beating process through trial and error.

Consider a video course that teaches you how to play handpan. In this day and age, video courses are easily accessible, inexpensive for the long-term value they provide, and a convenient way to divide your time between the times you want to learn. We always recommend checking out Mr. David Charrier's free courses 🙂 .

Don't hesitate to explore Youtube. There are a large number of videos with tips, tricks and instructions on how to play. However, the best way is to try it out. You will be surprised how fast you can make music.

How does a 440hz or 432hz handpan work?

Okay, we're getting a little technical here, but it's very relevant. Most instruments can be tuned to 440hz, but many musicians like or would like to tune to 432hz.

We're not going to get into the theories about 432hz here. If you have even the slightest idea what I'm talking about now, you already know.
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The handpan is a very spiritual instrument. When playing, you can have the feeling of becoming one with nature. There is a belief that the 432 Hz tuning has healing properties. It can calm and connect intrinsically with the vibrations of life and nature.

Can you hear the difference? Only with difficulty, but you can "feel" it!

My handpan is not working!

Try to diagnose exactly what the problem is. What do you feel compared to what you expect?

  • Is the sound out of tune?
  • Is the sound muffled?
  • Are the two hemispheres separated?
  • Has it been dropped or otherwise damaged?
  • Is there corrosion on your handpan?
Again, Youtube can answer many of your questions. Some videos can help you diagnose the problem, but beware: some tips may only be relevant to certain handpan brands.

If your problem seems to be bigger and you can't operate your Handpan as you would like, it's probably best to contact the manufacturer. They may be able to help you without seeing your Handpan, but they may want to see them for themselves and offer you a solution. Logically, if they are out of reach, ask the online community for advice.

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