The eternal dilemma about how to choose an handpan scale is quite something, especially as buying such instruments is an economic effort and an investment on playing commitment. There are several ideas and theories about choosing the right scale and version, but more than often is a matter of personal taste, music considerations and a hint of luck.
This being said, our customers usually ask us for advice when they are new to handpans, and we are fully committed towards helping them finding the right scale. For this reason, we have analyzed all the scales of our store to give you the basic information you need to know about the handpan scales in our list.
7 tips about handpan scales
There are some easy steps one can make when deciding:
1. Watch YouTube videos and feel the vibes of different scales: the usual difference is between major and minor scales, happier the former and darker the latter. We have also built our Handpan Virtual Instrument (click here to visit the page) to play with the scales available in our store, and a Handpan Scale Comparison Page to allow you to listen to all the scale audio samples and filter them.
2. Know the difference between pentatonic, hexatonic, diatonic or chromatic scales:
– Pentatonic scales are brighter, they sound marvelous as the harmonics are repeated more than once – usually each note is repeated in two stacked octaves:
- Akebono (Japanese scale miyako-bushi)
- Low Pygmy (minor)
- Magic Voyage (minor)
- Oxalis (major)
- Paradise (major)
- Pentatonic (major)
- Pygmy (dorian)
– Hexatonic (6-note) scales usually avoid the one note that would take you out of context. This note is usually the fourth degree of the scale. These are among the most common six-tone handpan scales:
- Amara/Celtic Minor (dorian)
- Blues (blues scale)
- Equinox (minor)
- Minor (minor)
- La Sirena (dorian)
- Mixolydian (mixolydian)
- Mystic (minor)
- YshaSavita (major)
– Diatonic, 7-note scales are the choice if you are serious with harmonic and melodic studying: they have all the intervals of any given scale, major or minor, and will make you study and exploit the possibilities of your instrument:
- Aeolian (minor)
- Annaziska/Kurd (minor)
- Hijaz (phrygian dominant)
- Jibuk (mixolydian)
- Romanian Hijaz (dorian #4)
- Sabye (lydian)
– Chromatic handpans, usually mutants as they are called, are for players who need more notes to dive into different scales or modes. These handpans are very useful if you plan to play with professional musicians or to use your instrument in complex projects, where more notes are needed. Chromatic handpans are usually tailor-made, so they do not appear in our list.
4. Feel the material: handpans made in nitrided dc04 steel have a fuller sound, with clear overtones and good sustain. Stainless steel handpans are brighter, tending to lose some low frequencies as the overtones sound a lot brighter, and have a very long sustain. While the former are better for percussionists, the latter are for more delicate and slow players, who prefer filling the air with sound and less percussive rhythms.
5. Try a few: every player has their own feeling with the instrument. As for any instrument, everyone has their preferences and connects with one handpan rather than with another.
6. Ask fellow musicians for advice: spend time with the musicians you know to understand which are the possibilities of the scale or the music genre you are interested in.
7. Ask us: we will be happy to give you advice based on our experience as makers and musicians.
Do you have any question? Ask us in the comments section!