Hot Pans - Stockholm Steelband
© Ulf Kronman, The Pan Page. Publisher: Musikmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Definitions of vocabulary

The instrument

In this book I have chosen to use the term Steel Pan, or just Pan for short, referring to the whole instrument, regardless of whether it consists of one or several steel drums. A proposed Trinidad & Tobago standard also suggests that the instrument is called Steel Pan.

Outside Trinidad the name "Steel Drum" is often used. It is now due time that this name is eradicated, since it mainly refers to the raw material of the pan, thus implying that performance is made on raw, un-crafted drums. In recognition of the highly developed handicraft work in tuning, the notion that the pan is crafted can be stressed by consistently using the term steel pan for the instrument.

The proposed Trinidad & Tobago standard also suggests a short and precise definition of the instrument that is to be called steel pan:

"A percussion instrument in the idiophone class, traditionally made from the unstoppered end and part of the wall of a metallic drum. The metallic playing surface is concaved with a skirt attached. The playing surface is divided into convex section by grooves, channels and/or bores; each section is a note tuned into a definite pitch. The convex sections are struck with pan sticks to produce musical tones."

Names of the steel pan models

The naming of the various pan models is a bit problematic. New names are introduced together with new or altered pan models. During later years, a standard set of pans has evolved and their names have been relatively fixed. A Trinidad standard of naming is now being proposed, but there are still some problems with the changing models.

Outside Trinidad, the names of the higher pans have sometimes been changed in an adaptation to the classical music nomenclature. The following is a list that can be used as a "translation scheme" between the various names.

Trinidad common name

Trinidad proposed standard

Range name


High tenor


Low tenor

C soprano

Double tenor

Double tenor


Double second

Double second


Quadrophonic pan

Quadrophonic pan

Four pan

Quadruple pan


Double guitar

Triple guitar


Triple cello


Tenor bass

Tenor bass

Six bass

Low bass

Nine bass

The reason for the confusion of the naming in the upper range of the steel pan family seems to be the following: In the early days of the pan the lead pan was a single drum with 8 to 10 notes, playing in the tenor range. As the tenor evolved, more notes were put in and the pitch was raised but the name remained the same.

The parts of a steel pan


Fig. E.1 The parts of a steel pan.


Fig. E.2 The parts of a note.

Technical terms

The term arch is used to denote the vertical shape of a note dent.
The area of the playing surface that is used to separate notes.
Curved downwards, when seen from the top of the pan.
Curved upwards, when seen from the top of the pan.
The word dent is in this book used to describe the acoustically active areas of the steel pan. The notes are always convex, seen from the top of the pan, and could also be described using the synonymous words; bulge, dome or swelling. I have chosen to use the more technical word "dent", even if the regular use of it mostly refers to unintended, concave shapes.
In this text, the word drum is used to denote the raw-material or the parts of a pan. This means that one pan can consist of several drums.
An engraved line or indentation that marks the separation of notes.
A convex section tuned to a specific pitch.
A direction along the radius of the drum, i.e., from the centre and outwards towards the rim or vice versa. Inner notes are usually oriented radially, i.e., with their length axis pointing towards the centre of the drum.
The wall of the steel drum, which acts as a resonator in the pan.
A direction along the tangent of the rim, i.e., following a straight line perpendicular to the radius. Outer notes are usually oriented tangentially, i.e., with their length axis pointing along the rim.