How Many Notes Can You Have on a Handpan? | Advice and Guide


When I first got interested in handpans, I thought I wanted as many notes as possible to increase the variety of what I could play. I was wrong!

How many notes are there on a handpan? – The original PANArt Hang had 8 notes. Further development, experimentation, and evolution of the handpan has witnessed other creators producing handpans with up to 24 tone fields positioned on both the top and bottom halves of the shell.

Depending on the scale you choose, or is available, the number of notes is limited by physics and frequency. Here’s everything you need to know about selecting the number of notes on your custom made handpan.

Handpan Notes
A ‘Standard’ Handpan Note Configuration

So Why Can’t I Have More? Why is the Number of Notes on a Handpan Limited?

Let’s get the limitation out of the way first; then, I can go on to explain the options for the note count on the handpan you are deciding to create.

Limits are there to be broken. I am sure no one expected there to be a 24 note handpan several years ago, but limitations are stretched. It is, however, surely beginning to get to the outer reaches of possibility.

Consider first that there is only so much real estate on a handpan, and each note field needs some of it. The more notes on a drum, the closer they get to each other, and the more likelihood of accidentally crossing over to another field and activating interference.

Another point is that the more notes on the handpan, and in particular when scaling the reaches of 24, the notes tens to be higher because there is less space to fit them in. It’s not all bad, though. The Alma A-minor double layout sounds incredible!

But what if I play accurately and don’t hit the note next door?

You do not have to hit the next note to activate it. You are playing a single piece of steel. If the notes are too close, just by hitting one, it’s possible to enable another note and create a poor sounding overlap. This may not happen to begin with, but with time and play your handpan will detune to a degree.

The more notes on a handpan, the more defects and flaws the instrument is likely to have. You’ll be paying well for such a wonderfully crafted instrument too!

What Are The Most Notes I Can Have on my Handpan?

As mentioned above, most notes I have personally seen on a handpan is 24. This number is extreme, however.

The most notes on a single handpan I am aware of at present if ordering online is 14 from Opsilon in Germany.

At the order stage, they will provide a standard eight-note drum, with the option of +2 notes on the upper. A further four can be added to the lower. There is an additional cost per note as you would expect. At the time of writing €150 per note is the quoted add-on cost. It could change so; please check.

What is the best number of notes for a beginner handpan?

I would suggest when starting to go for around 8/9 notes on the upper. 

If you want more, then perhaps make it an 8+2 on the Gu shell.

It is better to start with a handpan that is manageable, connect with your instrument and learn together.

Once you become proficient, you will know if you have outgrown your first baby and want to move onto more notes and a bigger challenge.

What is a GU on a handpan? – The ‘Gu’ is the hole in the bottom of the handpan, therefore the bottom is referred to as the ‘Gu Shell’ as opposed to the top half which is the ‘Ding Shell’ because of the [usually] outward dented ‘Ding’ Note

How to choose the notes on a handpan?

While you can choose notes on a handpan, it is more likely you will select a scale or accept one that is available from an in-stock handpan or flash sale from a maker.

Which scale you select will be down to personal preference. Before deciding, listen to as many videos with as many different scales. Listen to them being played by different players too.

If the scale information is available, write it down. Keep a record and go over the videos again to see which sounds best to your ear. The one that you connect with best.

How many notes on a PANArt Hang?

The original handpan, created and sold by PANArt mostly had eight notes. Some had seven. Hence the vast majority of handpans you see today will have around this number.

Since 2013 when PANArt stopped producing the instrument, many more creators have begun to make handpans. Experiment with more notes and push the boundaries of the art of making handpans.

While at present 24 is the greatest number of notes I have discovered, development and design continue to evolve, and we may see more. 

One way this may be possible is by increasing the size of the handpan, although they are large already, there is nothing to say pans with a larger surface area will not be experimented upon to include an even wider range.

How Many ‘Dings’ on a handpan?

Most handpans you see will have one center note located on the top. Usually, an ‘Apex’ ding, the note in the top and center of a handpan is an outward dent. An ‘Outtie’, if you will. As opposed to a less frequently used Innie, or ‘Inpex’.

On occasion, you may find a variation of the handpan two dings on the top half. 

In the video below, Tom Vaylo plays an 18 note handpan created by Mayuko Taki Mano from l’Elf.

You will notice two dings on the top of the instrument.

However, what you won’t notice is that there are a further two on the bottom, making this a four ding handpan!

What is a Tone Field on a handpan?

The tone field is the correct term for the note made on a handpan. It is an area with an indent and a surround which is the field of play of that particular note. When struck with the hand or fingers it creates the sound that escapes through the “gu” on the bottom of the handpan. Each Tone field is individually crafted to play and exact note within a scale selected for the handpan. 

How Are the Notes created on a handpan?

Each note is created by a process to place the nitrided steel under pressure and shaped to perfection to produce the correct note. It is a process that takes many hours. Hence the more notes on a handpan, the longer the production will take, and therefore, generally, the higher the price of the instrument.

The 24 Note Handpan

OK, so I mentioned above that I had found a 24 note handpan. Below is a video of this monster. Earlier I mentioned the greater number of notes on a handpan, the smaller the space available and thus the higher the note.

It is a creation of Alma, based just outside Lisbon in Portugal.

You may not have heard a handpan sound quite as high as this one previously.

This handpan has 19 notes in the top and a further five on the bottom. It truly is a wonder. And as Alma state, this is the beginning of further development of research into creating new instruments pushing the limits

A2, E3, A3, B3, C4 ,D4, E4, F4, G4, A4, B4, C5, D5, E5, F5, G5, A5, B5, C6, D6, E6, F6, G6, A6.

Not a handpan for beginners. Enjoy

SteveM

I enjoyed the unpitched appeal of percussion prior to discovering handpans in a 'moment' I was experiencing. I've been writing ever since.

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