As builders, we never focus on handpan playing technique. There are a lot of great handpan makers who are good players, but to be honest we are in this moment of our project when we are more focused on tuning than on playing. But we have reached a point where we also want to start learning how to play. We do it because it’s our job, and music is our passion. It can be quite frustrating learning how to play again. I started playing the guitar like 18 years ago, and I can’t remember how it was. I just remember it was fun and unnerving while trying to make a barre chord sound good. Elisa used to play the piano, and she’s now into learning music again after a long hiatus.
The available methods
The point with handpan playing is that there is little didactic material to be found. I mean, there are some good online courses, like David Charrier’s, David Kuckhermann’s and Loris Lombardo’s academies, but it is always a good starting point to check if it suits your needs as handpan student, viewing the previews and practicing the free lessons. I have tried some free lessons, and personally like Charrier’s visual method and Kuckhermann’s professionality, I have bought Lombardo’s book and it is a good starting point to develop a good knowledge of rhythmic studies and drum playing if you have never studied them before. I have personally studied drums and percussion since 2013, and all this methods have their good points. Of course, watching the many YouTube videos of great musicians playing can be of help, but only if you have time to dedicate to practice and transcription.
As we are not that kind of students, and since we were school teacher before becoming handpan makers, we are trying to find our way to learn the instrument, building a progression made of small but significant steps that can fix the concepts and movements you learn in a meaningful way. Playing is both automation and expression, so both things have to be trained.
Loris Lombardo and the Muqsuum rhythm
Starting from our current level, which is knowing how to read a rhythmic score and knowing something about percussion and drums, we have found a good video to start with. The tablature is very easy and intuitive, you don’t need to have studied percussion before. It is one of Loris Lombardo’s free lessons available on YouTube. He took the Muqsum rhythm from the Middle Eastern music tradition, and applied it to handpan playing. We have practiced that for a couple of days now, and it feels musical and didactical in the right proportion. After some more research, we found that the darbuka and the associated Middle Eastern rhythms can be adapted to handpan playing and they seem just fun and good to practice!
Here is the video! Enjoy it and stay tuned for more pieces of advice about how to learn to play the handpan!