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What is a Hang Drum? (or Handpan?)

What is a hang drum? Is it even correct to call these flying saucer instruments ‘hang drums’? These are the questions I answer in this short but informative video!

In one sentence….

A hang drum is a hand-played percussive musical instrument made from two steel hemispheres.

But there is so much more to it than that!

Long story short, the term ‘hang drum’ is a big misnomer.

The origin of the term is due to the fact that the original sound sculptures have a brand name of “Hang”, and were produced by PANArt, a small two-person company based in Bern, Switzerland. People associate percussion instruments as being drums (which is not always the case; pianos are percussion instruments), and since the Hang is played by the hands, people started calling it a drum.

The most widely accepted generic term used today is “handpan”. While PANArt does not consider the Hang to be a handpan, many people will disagree. I won’t get into the politics of that here, as it is a lengthy discussion with no clear cut answer.

At first, the generic term created by PANArt was “sound sculpture”. This term, however, never really caught on. Perhaps it is too wordy and is not descriptive enough.

Regardless, many of us in the handpan world are in a constant battle of trying to inform people of the proper terminology. Why are we so adamant about this?

Simple. Hang, the brand of sound sculpture from PANArt, is trademarked.

Therefore, we cannot refer to our own instruments as “hang drums” or the like. This makes bringing the handpan to the world much more difficult if everyone is searching for ‘hang drums’ instead.

But where did the Hang come from?

As mentioned above, the Hang was invented by PANArt around the year 2000, from a small workshop in Bern, Switzerland. Prior to the Hang, PANArt was manufacturing steel pans, specifically, the Pang instruments. The Pang instruments were a new kind of steel pan that they had been developing for years Anyways, the Hang was the manifestation of an idea sparked by Reto Weber, a Ghatam musician, who asked PANArt to put their sounds of singing steel into something that could be played with the hands.

After some prototypes and development, the first sound sculpture was created; the Hang.

As demand increased, more people eventually started creating similar versions of the Hang, and thus the handpan was born. There is MUCH more to this story which will be told in future posts.

Read about more history of the hang and handpan here.

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