How to Play the Hang Drum / HandPan - Lesson Zero

The beauty of the Hang, Handpan, and Hank, as an instrument, at least partially lies within the simple, and highly intuitive note-layout designed by the original Hang-makers, PANArt.  Handpan as standard feature a complimentary scale of notes zig-zagging around  a central note.  And by design, playing a "wrong" note on any Handpan that follows this design, is something that is near impossible.

Which is something that, while the Handpan has also proven extremely popular with percussionists, also makes the Handpan the perfect instrument, for those with little to no musical training.

When learning to play the Handpan on day one, there is really only one thing you need to learn, in order to get started in earnest, and that is "The Touch".

The Touch

The best way to get a tone from a Handpan is best described as this:

'Touch it as if you were testing a stove with your finger, checking to see if it is hot'

And this tends to work best with the top-flat-fleshy-underside of your finger.  To begin with at least.

A well-made Handpan requires only a gentle touch to sound a note, and hitting it too hard will not only cause the sound to blare, and squeal, it can also de-tune an instrument.  Leading to potentially costly maintenance charges.

PANArt have long been against people using the "drum" moniker in relation to their instruments, and while the idea behind that sentiment has arguably picked up a moss of the meta-physical as time has gone by.  With the Handpan being an instrument of the "Idiophone" class - an instrument that generates sound through the vibration of the whole - it does make sense not to think of Handpan as drums, despite their excellent percussive qualities, and remember that in place of hitting, and beating, Handpan tend to react best to firm, but gentle, tickles, and caresses.

PANArt have on numerous occasions referred to their creations as being "Mirrors to the soul", and even if you're not of a "spiritual" persuasion, by design, the limited, but complimentary note lay-out lends itself well to intuitive play.  In a way that can be quite personal, and meditative.

As with any instrument, you can and will improve with practise.  In terms of reaching beyond the meditative, and on towards composition.  But few other instruments are able to offer such easy access to musical creativity as does the Handpan right-off-the-bat.  No breathing techniques to learn.  No complicated chord structures.  Get the touch down, which is something that most people do (more-or-less) within an hour, and you should be off and playing.

There is an often quoted mantra within the world of Handpan:

'There is no wrong way to play a Handpan'

And while learning some percussive techniques can arguably add to your game, with the exception of beating on your Handpan like you are angry with it, or prodding at it with your finger tips, we at HPM, remain of the opinion, that now, as from the birth of the Hang, that mantra remains pretty much true.

Pick it up, explore, and play.  It really is that simple.

© HandPans Magazine