We can divide the steeldrums in 2 groups
These pans have only few selected notes but not the entire chromatic scale.
They are always made out one single barrel, that saves space, and they are generally played in marching bands, “pan-round-the-neck”.
The single pans are easier to play than the chromatics pans, that’s why they’re particularly recommended to beginners.
However, this kind of steel drums have also their own steel bands (single steel bands) and their own contest during the Carnival Panorama of Port of Spain (in february).
These steel pans have all the note (half-tones) of the chromatic mode. They are made out of one to several barrels according to their pitch, from soprano to bass:
And also “Double Tenor”, “Quadrophonic” (Cello), “Tenor Bass”…
The more low pitched is a note, the largest it is, and reversely, that’s why the tenor (soprano, the highest pitched range) has more than 2 octaves on only one barrel while the basses require several barrels to get the same number of notes.
High C tenor, low D tenor, double tenor
The Tenor consists of: High D and Low C Lead range from C4 (or D4) to E6 (or F#6) and has 29 notes. This instrument is designed to play the melody in the steelband (front line), its tessitura is the highest pitched
of all the steeldrum family. This is the most recommended model to start with.
The double Tenor (Soprano) consists of: Low C range from F3 to B5 and has 31 notes. This instrument, made of two barrels, is designed to play the counter melody in the steelband. It is the model that has one of the largest number of notes and is very versatile.
Single second, double second
The Second is designed to accompany the melody played by the tenors’ front line. A little bit lower than the tenor, it has 14 notes from G3 to A4 (single) or 32 notes from F#3 to C6 (double).
The second may be used for the counter melody and the harmony. The single second, traditionally used for marching steelbands («pan ‘round the neck») is now played in the regular steel orchestras. However, the double second is still the most widespread in use.
Single guitar, double guitar
Guitar pans, single or double, are mainly used for rhythmic and harmony.
Its powerful timbre is perfect for the «strummings» (rhythmic chords and harmony tenor voice) and, despite its 18 notes (for a double guitar) it can also be used for the melody.
The single Guitar is made in one barrel and gives 8 notes harmonized with the other single pans.
Triple cello, quadruple cello
The Triple Cello is used for rhythmic, chords and harmony (tenor voice). This instrument offers a large range of 24 bass and medium pitched notes from B2 to A4.
The playing technique is not that simple to handle at the same time because of its three barrels but its timbre definitely merits it.
It produces one of the most beautiful sounds of all the steeldrums that composes a steel orchestra.
Single bass, 6 bass
Single Bass is used for the bass line. It has 5 essential notes that will fit with thousands of melodies. It’s easy to handle, compared to the 6 Bass, and is particularly appreciated by musicians who are moving a lot with their instrument, or for marching steelbands. Very easy to play and producing a deep full sound experience, the single Bass is recommended for beginners and/or starting bands.
The 6 Bass is one of the largest playing surfaces in the world of musical instruments. With 6 barrels of 3 notes each, the complete instrument has 18 notes and is, of course, used for an elaborate bass line. The chrome finishing is not relevant for such a big instrument. The musicians who play the 6 Bass often seem to dance while they’re playing. For experienced players and steelbands.
Rhythmic section in a steel band
Drum set, congas, scratcher, iron
The rhythmic section that accompanies the steel band on Calypso music is generally composed by several percussions.
The drummer is in the middle of the steel band, beside the conga player (with specific mallets), one or several scratcher (kind of metal-made güiro) and one or several iron (piece of metal, generally a brake drum or a wheel rim played with metal sticks).
This rhythmic section, with its hypnotically groove, is the steel band’s spin.