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Anwers to Steel Drum Questions

The steel drum is a unique musical instrument created in the late 1930s on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Made from 55-gallon barrels, the drums have a rustic appearance but a sophisticated sound that surprises listeners.

Musicians expressing themselves with the haunting, melodic sound from steel containers soon discovered ways to produce distinct tones from the convex-shaped surface of drums of all kinds. They began playing simple songs and a new sound was added to the folk music of Trinidad. It is called calypso. Since the 1940s many advances have been made, the drums are now concave with the notes hammered up. Nine varieties of steel drums or 'pans' as they are called in Trinidad, exist allowing the musician to play a full range of voices with the steel drum. This 20th Century percussion instrument sometimes combines its sounds with other percussion to create a lively, festive music that began in the celebration of Carnival in Trinidad.

What is the name of this instrument? How does it make the sound? It is a steel drum or pan, hand crafted from 55-gallon oil barrels. Areas are designated and tuned for a specific pitch. By striking these areas, a melody can be created, just as by pressing individual keys on a piano.

Is it amplified? Not electronically, but the vibration inside the drum is a natural amplifier.

Where do you get steel drums? They are hand made by craftsmen from Trinidad and Tobago (a neighboring island) who shape the steel by pounding out areas with hammers ranging from an eight pound sledge to a small ball pein. Our drums were handcrafted by Ellie Mannette and Patrick Arnold, natives of Trinidad and Tobago. There are many talented steel drum builders and tuners in Trinidad and Tobago. If you are interested in purchasing a steel drum or for booking information drop an e-mail to J.T.

Where did you learn to play this kind of music? A percussionist by talent and trade, J.T. learned to play steel drums while in the Caribbean listening and playing with various local bands from many different islands. (J.T. learned to play steel drums as one of many percussion instruments and is always teaching others. If you have played any musical instrument, or even as a beginner, the pan can be a fun and simple instrument to learn.)

What kind of music can you play? Because the drums can be tuned as precisely as any other instrument and all of the notes are present, the pans allow you to play all kinds of music from classical to calypso, and pop to jazz.


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