History of the Steel Pan


Originated in the country of Trinidad & Tobago, the steel pan came to be as a result of innovation. The time of Carnival in Trinidad takes place two days before Lent and is a celebration consisting of parades, costumes, music, dancing and all sorts of entertainment. It is claimed that the pan was developed during the World War 2 period in Trinidad, following a band on “stick bands” forcing people to search for alternatives. Searching junk yards some young men realized that a sounds could be made through interaction with the base of a garbage bin at a certain angle and began to create dents to tweak sounds. Over a series of years they created an instrument out of an oil drum and added 25-30 tones on one object (Seegar 52). It is truly an instrument which has and currently has many owners, of many types, many ages and ethnicities, as well as many variations as it is used in bands, solo acts and various others. It has created festivals around the world and brought fame to organizations and concerts alike.

Considering the history of such an object and its original purpose, this object has transformed significantly over time, we can trace it back to steel, an alloy consisting of iron and carbon, then to the development of the oil drum for commodification and finally the transformation of the oil drum into a steel pan after years of development. However, since the creation of the steel drum/pan, there has been one use, and one use only, the ability to use it  for outputting amazing sounds. If we isolate the instrumental purpose from the steel pan, attach the base and smelt it, then we can get a series of uses and purposes, but this particular object was designed as an instrument and stays true to that use since its conception. Throughout the course of time, the instrument has only adapted with time, once was used as a instrument played while hanging from the body, and now it is more stationary, it has even been transformed into a digital version called the “E-Pan”.

Created from the country of Trinidad, the instrument has been become global; after being heavily integrated into the Caribbean music scene, the steel pan can be traced to North America, South America, and even Asia where there are various groups around the world playing this beautiful instrument. Although a more recent discovery and development, this instrument is one that has brought popularity and bliss to the music industry, and has also created a scholarly following listed below.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CZCO0VIpKY – Tony Guppy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtPcBIpZASM – Panorama (Steel Band contest)

Scholarly sources

Aho, William R (1987):Steelband Music in Trinidad and Tobago:The Creation of a People’s Music. Latin American Music Review, Vol.8, No.1, 1987, pgs. 26-58

Grant, Cy (1999):Ring of Steel – Pan Sound and Symbol. Macmillan Education, London. 1999

Kronman, Ulf. Steel Pan Tuning: A Handbook for Steel Pan Making and Tuning. Stockholm, Sweden: Musikmuseet, 1992. Print.

Seeger, P. (1964):”Steel drums – how to play them and make them”, Oak. Publ. New York.

Stuempfle, Stephen (1995):The steelband movement : the forging of a national art in Trinidad and Tobago, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.




By shaunpoon

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