Your First Handpan
Buying your first handpan can be challenging. There are multiple brands, many types, and it’s difficult to find one to try out in person before you buy. They can also be expensive.
In this guide to buying a handpan, we get into three points to help make the process easy.
1.) Is the Handpan Right for You?
Although it’s based on other instruments, the handpan relatively new. Since the year 2000, when it was invented in Switzerland, it has exploded in popularity. This is no accident. The handpan looks and sounds interesting, making it popular with street performers, and its calming tones are perfect for solo play and performance.
To see if this instrument is a good choice for you, here are some points to consider.
- A calming experience. There are many ways to play, but perhaps sound therapy is most frequent. The tones of the instrument aren’t sharp and they ring long, leading to a “cascading effect.” Because this instrument is constructed diatonically (more on this below), it’s easy to create melodies while you let your mind relax.
- Middle ground between rhythm and melody. Rhythm is important to all musical instruments. The handpan, however, emphasizes rhythm. Musicians usually play them with an ostinato, or short, repeated melody. This is excellent training for both melody and rhythm, making this instrument ideal for beginning musicians.
- Excels at solo play. This reason builds on the previous two: although these instruments work well with other musicians, it’s common for them to be played alone. Why? They are introspective, meditative instruments, ideal to unwind with at the end of a long day. Experienced players can also create an ostinato and a melody at the same time. If you’re looking for an instrument you can express yourself with, the handpan is the perfect choice.
2.) Style of Handpan
So, you’ve decided this instrument is a good fit for you! Awesome. The next step is choosing which style of handpan you want.
Unlike pianos, guitars, or many other instruments, handpans are diatonic instruments. This means that they are constructed according to one musical scale. A piano can play any scale because this instrument has 88 keys. By contrast, a typical handpan has 8 to 10 notes and can play only one musical scale.
This makes choosing which scale you want to play important!
A good way to choose which scale you want to buy is to ask yourself what mood you want to experience.
- Do you want to make music that is light, hopeful, or optimistic? The major scale is what you’re looking for.
- Maybe you like introspective and more melancholic music. The minor scale is best for this.
- Many people like the instrument for a mystical or exotic tone. There are many options for this, including Hijaz, Raga Desh or Chinese or Japanese scales.
For most musicians, the handpan scale we recommend is D Kurd. This minor scale coordinates well with other musicians and is flexible for many situations.
3.) Buying Your Handpan
Okay, now you’re selected the style of handpan for yourself. There’s only one more step: getting your hands on one!
These instruments can get expensive. The “authentic” original, called a hang and made by PANArt Hangbau AG, can go upwards of $3,000+ CAD. Many competitors have entered the handpan scene since 2000, however, and this is good news: quality instruments are available for much less money. This guide will give you an idea of how many manufacturers are out there!
Unfortunately, local stores do not routinely stock the handpan. Long & McQuade does, but they are usually available only by online delivery and are high-quality, expensive items. Gandharva Loka (on Granville Island) does carry them from time to time, and they are worth calling to check.
Online order through Amazon is always an option. Other brands and websites we suggest you check out are Kita Pantam, Vanda, Eco, Gift, and Yatao. However, we do recommend that you try the instrument before committing to purchase one: coming in to the school for a free complimentary consultation is a perfect way to get your hands on the instrument. We’re more than happy to assist you with purchasing one for yourself, whether it’s brand-new or a more affordable used one. Our instructors promise to lend their expertise to get you started.