Steel tongue drums are a fresh invention. In the XXI century, new musical instruments appeared and gained popularity. Steel tongue (aka panda, tank, or hank) drums are among them. After reading a panda drum review, watching videos on YouTube, or seeing someone play it on the street, you may want to master this instrument yourself. But where do you begin? And how do you choose the instrument you’d like? Here are some basic recommendations for potential steel tongue drum players.
The Basics (Or Why Steel Tongue Drums Exist)
The thing that makes steel tongue drums stand out among other percussion instruments is their initial tuning. In short, STDs are made to play only certain notes assigned to their tongues. These notes are selected from the entire scale to form a self-sufficient scale, usually a pentatonic one. If you buy a new drum, it usually comes with a manual containing the description of its tuning and the melodies, and the songs you can play with it.
You may give it time to memorize which note each tongue produces. It will be easier if you remember that the longer the tongue is, the lower the note is. On some models, each tongue is marked to make it even easier. As you keep practicing, you’ll master choosing the right note without looking — just like you have probably learned to use your PC keyboard.
How do you start playing?
- Take the drum right. Position it on your lap (or in front of you) so the lowest note is the closest to you.
- If you play with mallets, take them in both hands. You can also play with your hands, making the sound slightly different.
- Hit the tongue to make it sound.
- Don’t wait for it to fade out to hit the next tongue. The sustain effect it has creates that unique spacey feel.
- Play notes in various orders to explore the abilities of the drum.
- Try to find the best chords by hitting 2 tongues simultaneously.
- Vary the force you use to hit the tongues and listen to how it affects the sounds.
We’d recommend you improvise a little before you start playing certain tunes. First, you’ll get familiar with the sound. Second, you’ll embrace the instrument’s feel, knowing where any particular note is without even looking. You’ll know which note to expect from the tongue you hit — that’s what’s called the ability to play.
For More Advanced Players
After mastering the basics, some tricks you can learn will allow you to create recognizable sounds and form your own manner.
- Detect the key of your drum. It can be done with any tuner if it’s not in the manual.
- Combine mallets with fingers. You can just put the mallets away for some tunes or use one mallet and one empty hand.
- Along with tongues, hit spaces between them, so they sound. These sounds may be untuned, so it depends on your feel.
- If you have placed your drum on a table or a stand, you can also hit it to produce regular percussion sounds. They may combine with those of the tongues very well, given the high sustain level.
Though steel tongue drums are designed to make all the notes go together well, there’s still a lot to master about this instrument. So explore and experiment!
Mind The Manual
Even if you have memorized all the song patterns from the manual, there is still a lot to get from it. You may want to adjust the tuning, use it with other musical instruments (which also may require fiddling around with tuning), or learn something new. The instrument is rather young, but manufacturers know a lot about it and share the knowledge for you to enjoy the instrument the most. The same do we wish to you, and hope you’re happy with your new tank drum!