Hello friends,  

I'm new to the forum and to the pan world.  I have a music background (woodwinds, hammered dulcimer) and really enjoy learning this new instrument.  It's great fun and my current project.

Which are the best sticks to use?  I have wood, metal and plastic.  I would love to see opinions on this.

Another question I have is this:  Do all pans have high notes that are harder to sound?  Are there "better" pans that don't have this issue?

Thank you very much for any comments.  


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hi liz,  i tend to favor metal mallets.  the higher notes are hard to hear on every pan I've ever played.  some are better than others, but i would consider these notes "extreme notes"... not unlike a very high note on a trumpet, it is hard to play and therefore risky to play. I use my high C and D though more than the other when i DO play them.

Thanks Brad!  That makes me feel better, although I sometimes also have a little trouble with some of the notes in the middle ring too.  I think there must be sweet spots for these perhaps?  And I need to teach myself how to hit with a little more bounce and resonance there.

Thanks for the comment on the mallets.  My aluminum pair does seem to sound better.

Liz - I've only been playing for about 3 1/2 years now and have been with a community band for the last two. I've experimented with wooden and aluminum mallets and finally settled on aluminum. I've learned that there are two styles of mallets; one I refer to as American, the other is referred to as Trini style. The Trini, which I prefer, are approximately 6 3/4" long. The American style are about 8" or so. I have found the Trini style mallets have a faster action, if you will, because you are swinging a longer mallet around. It takes less time to get from note to note. There are also different densities of rubber used which give a different sound to the notes. I have come to prefer the denser black tips as opposed to the softer opaque tips, although I have both in my mallet kit. I get mine from SteelDrumMallets.com. 

Yes, the very high notes in the center of the bowl are very high and very hard to get right. I don't remember even playing them. I suspect that the very high end, read expensive, pans may sound a bit better.

Happy panning!

Hi Liz,

I do hope you have much happiness playing Pan, its a great instrument! I have have a huge collection of Pans (almost 60 now) ranging in age from 25 years to 1 year old and yes there is a great difference between the quality of Pans and of course this is reflected in the price! however most music doesn't need too many high notes so if the budgets an issue I wouldn't worry too much, just get going with Brads awesome tracks and have some fun...if you get really into it you can save up for a really special Pan.    

Thanks to everyone for their helpful comments!  Kevin, thank you very much for your input on the mallets.  And thanks to everyone on the high notes.  You are so kind to contribute, I would like to ask a few other questions.  

When playing the hammered dulcimer, we are taught to alternate hands as much as possible for faster striking.  We have to plan the best hand moves for a song because the same note on that big stringed instrument is located in multiple locations.  We are trained to never "cross hands" because that slows you down.   For the pan, do you alternate hands or not worry about that so much?  It seems to me it might be better to play notes on the right side with the right hand and notes on the left side with the left hand, but alternating hands does flow more smoothly, even if you cross hands.  I don't have access to any training so appreciate your input on this.  I've enjoyed Brad's harmony versions very much (buy them, you will love them!) and of course that is a bit different, because both hands are in motion much of the time.

Also, Marion (and others), if I were to buy a special pan, who would you recommend?  When I bought the one I have now, I played it in person along with several others.  Some of the ones I played were out of tune or had notes that didn't sound well.  So I'm a bit worried about buying unseen through the mail.

I like to learn new instruments and I have enjoyed this one so much.  I wish I could stop all my other commitments so I could spend more time on it.  

Best, Liz

Hi Liz,

Finding a special pan is tricky unless of course you live near the makers so you can check them out ! There are many differing approaches nowadays and having played pans from several different countries its clear there are many ways to go. Also like all musical instruments there are different needs, so if you are going to be playing a lot or teaching as a soloist then you need a great pan, perhaps less so if you are in a large ensemble, so it does rather depend on the situation .I have been teaching pan for 25 yrs plus and have an 'everyday' pan which I use to teach with and then a  beautiful 'solo pan'  which I would take to play on a stage or at a gig..

When it comes to the best in terms of quality of sound and staying in tune I would suggest you consider these....Coyles Pans, Panyard ( not the imported ones)  and finally my fav pan maker Steve Lawrie, I own one of his C Leads and it is stunning. These are all USA makers and therefor probably easier for you to visit to check out. Normally some of the Pan makers go to the big Percussion Expos so you could see if you could see them there.

As for your questions re hands and how to play, the main thing is to find the most economical hand to play a note and then stick to it! write on the music L and R and practice the piece so you get a great muscle memory, if you keep changing hands you will take ages to learn anything! Also try to sing (or drone!) the names of the notes as you learn, so when you away from the Pan and bored driving along you can still practice, singing out the notes, this will speed up your learning enormously. 

I use aluminium mallets from Panyard, 25 years ago we used wood with rubber bands and foam, thank goodness that's no longer the case as they got very smelly in the hot hands of my students, now you can wash your mallets after a gig!!,  

hope that's helpful, any other questions you can always message me on Facebook or my website www.nzacademyofsteelpan.com

Have fun Marion

I have bamboo mallets from Mallet Man that work well capturing a resonance in the higher register, but still maintain a good body on the lower range.   They sound better than fiberglass, wood, metal, or any other mallets I've tried out.  I replace the tips that he uses with the hard tips from Panyard. 

Thanks Marion for the great idea to go to a percussion show.  It didn't occur to me that steel drums would be represented there - probably not in great numbers I would guess - but still fun to see.  I'm pretty happy with my pan but am always curious. 

I use aluminum sticks made by Innovation Percussion and I like the a lot. I don't what type of mallets there are in terms of volume, but I can hit the pan pretty hard with them. I would like to get some mallets from Panyard but they cost a heck of a lot.

FYI, if you every need to replace the rubber on you mallets, just go to any car repair shop and ask for some rubber.

I get new rubber for my tips at the medical supply store. Surgical tubing comes in several different wall thicknesses. If makes the pan sound different because of the softer properties, so If you playing a smooth melody like maybe.. "Wonderful World"   it comes out softer an d lass sharp than maybe the song, Margie. You buy it by the foot .30 - 1.50 average here. That makes for LOTS of new tips for my lead pan sticks. Just a thought

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