Common Handpan Terms and Their Definitions

The handpan world is constantly adding and changing terms.  However, a good reference or glossary for any of these terms can be difficult to find!  The list here is by no means exhaustive, and will be altered and added to as time passes.

Apex – The dome of the center note when it is dented outward.

Bending – Pressing along the axis of a tuned harmonic on a note, commonly the center note, to modulate (temporarily detune) the frequency to add a musical effect.  If done too hard, it may detune the note permanently.

Crosstalk – Undesired activation of neighboring notes when one note is struck.

DC04 – Common grade of German steel used to manufacture handpans.

Dimple – The deformed (purposely dented) area of the steel in the center of a note.  Can be dented inward or outward.  See ‘Dome’.

Ding – The center note of a Hang.  Also used to reference the center note of any handpan.

Dome – Another Term for ‘dimple’. The deformed (purposely dented) area of the steel in the center of a note.  Can be dented inward or outward (Inpex or Apex). 

Fundamental – The true pitch (lowest pitch) of a given note.

Gu – The circular opening in the bottom of most handpan instruments.  Originally used to refer to the opening in the bottom of the Hang.  See ‘Port’.

Handpan – Generic term for a hand-played pitched percussion instrument crafted from steel or similar metal, with notes (tone fields) on the top surface which create sound via in

Hang – The Trademarked name of the original sound sculpture created by PANArt, meaning “hand” in Bernese German.

Hang Drum – A common, but improper term for the Hang.  Also known to be used as a general term for handpans.

Harmonics – Partials above the fundamental frequency of a given note.  The first couple harmonics are forced in a note by a steel tuner to make a handpan note sound pleasant to the ears.

Helmholtz Resonance – The deep bass tone created by playing the port of a handpan instrument.  This frequency is created by the existence of the cavity of the handpan.  Read more here.

InnieSee inpex.

Inpex – The dome of the center note when it is dented inward.

Isolation – How independent a note is from neighboring notes when struck.  More isolation is generally preferred.  Lack of isolation creates ‘crosstalk’.

Nitriding – Case hardening process used to harden steel by diffusing molecular nitrogen into the steel matrix, creating iron nitrides.  Also creates a thin layer on the surface helping to fight rust formation.  May be performed via “gas nitriding”, “plasma nitriding”, or “salt bath nitriding”.

Note – A more generic term for ‘tone field’; a tuned area on the handpan.

OuttieSee apex.

PANArt – Original manufacturer of hand-played sound sculptures called the Hang.  Also known for similar instruments made from “pang” material.

Pang – Term used by PANArt to describe thoroughly nitrided steel with specific mechanical properties.

Pantam – Another generic term used to refer to a handpan type instrument.  Derived from Ghatam and steelpan. 

Port – A more generic term for the Gu; the bottom opening in most handpans.  Used to activate the Helmholtz resonance created by the cavity inside the handpan.  Also used by tuners to access the inside when required for tuning.  May be tuned with a fundamental pitch and harmonics as well, independent of the Helmholtz resonance.

Shoulder – The border of the center note (ding).  Can also reference the border of any note.

Shoulder Tones – Upper harmonics commonly found on lower voiced notes.  Heard by striking the shoulder area of a note.  Different areas of the shoulder may give different shoulder tones.

Singing (the ding) – Singing a note, commonly the ding, is when the hand is rubbed on the dome of the center note to activate one or more tuned harmonics.  Similar to playing the rim of a wine glass with the finger.

Sound Model – A defined set of notes arranged for a given handpan, commonly derived from popular modes of western music. 

Sound Sculpture – Another generic term used to reference a handpan or similar instrument.

Stability – Defined by the amount of pitch modulation at the moment of impact when played.  Less modulation upon impact indicates a more stable note; often desirable, especially for more percussive play styles.

Stability (of tuning) – Ability of a note to stay in tune over time, dependent on playing technique and care of the handpan.  A tuner who can tune with better stability will have an instrument capable of taking harder hits without permanent detuning.

Sustain – The length of time a note resonates after being struck.  A note which rings out longer is said to have ‘longer sustain’.

Sympathetic Activation – When a lower octave of a note activates its higher octave note elsewhere on a handpan.  Most commonly experienced when the center note (ding) activates another note one octave higher than it somewhere else on the handpan.  Desirability is dependent on personal taste.  May also occur via harmonics other than the octave.

Tone Fields – The notes surrounding the center note in a traditionally built handpan.

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