Welcome to our instrument buyer's guide!
We know that purchasing one of these instruments can feel a little overwhelming so have assembled the following information to help you choose the most appropriate instrument and scale combination for your needs. If you still have questions after going through this information, don't hesitate to reach out and ask us for assistance, we are always happy to help!
To start, there are a few different factors to consider when choosing your instrument: the series, sound, key, frequency, and finish. There are also some questions you can ask yourself as you move through this guide to help you narrow down the options. You may want to write some information down as you go, as this will make selecting specific options easier at your time of purchase.
1. The Series/Type - What am I looking for in an instrument?
2. The Sound - Understanding Scales, Tension Musical Flavours and Sound Healing, How To Choose
3. The Key - Am I trying to match with any specific instruments or songs?
4. The Frequency - What hertz works better for my needs?
5. The Color - What finish am I most attracted to?
1. The Series
Below our different series are arranged from the smallest and least expensive instrument, to the largest and most expensive instruments. Instruments with smaller resonating chambers tend to have higher notes, (because of the size of the tongues that can be cut and tuned onto them), and are very direct in their sound. Instruments with larger resonating chambers have more notes, and more internal reverberations of sound. These internal reverberations increase bass, and sustain, and can give a more "dreamy" sound quality on certain products. Each series has a unique and beautiful timbre that we are sure you will fall in love with again and again.
Plant the seed of music with this small, light, and portable instrument. Accessible to musicians of all ages and ranges, the seed series is the perfect drum to grab and go for any occasion, sprouting joy and levity with its bright and cheerful tones.
The Seed Series is a beautiful steel-tongue drum made from heat-treated carbon-steel, with 6 notes, and is our smallest instrument. This instrument is compact, exquisite and makes a great gift! *This is our only product without an installed pick up system.
8" x 4.5", 6 Notes, 6.0lbs. $350CAD
The traveler series is ideal for those seeking a lightweight and portable tongue drum with a wider variety of available scales. Create a beautiful soundtrack to your travels through life with these compact and versatile instruments!
The Traveler Series is a charming steel tongue drum made from heat-treated carbon-steel, with 8 notes, and is one of our smaller products. It has bright and clear notes, and with the added pick up is a great instrument to take out into the world for musical journeys. Available in 4 Diatonic scales.
10" x 5", 8 Notes, 8lbs. $415CAD
Explore a wider variety of scales and rich tones with these sturdy, versatile, and beautiful instruments. From the seashore to mountain tops, the explorer series pairs perfectly with all of life's adventures.
The Explorer Series is a robust steel tongue drum made from heat-treated carbon steel shells. These instruments have a slimmer profile than traditional steel tongue drums and are very portable. They have clear notes, long sustain and are a very beautiful instrument to hold and play. Available in a wide range of scales, with a note range of E3 to D5.
12" x 5.5", 8 Notes, 9.5lbs. $499CAD
In the beginning, there were only vibrations. From the dawn of time, the earth has been creating music with her vibrancy, resonance, and reverberation. Connect to the spirit of creation with our primordial series, allowing the rich and resonant tones to reflect and honour the timeless music of the earth.
The Primordial series is the larger sibling of the Traveler Series, and as such, is available in a variety of diatonic scales. These diatonic scales are lower than what is available on the Traveler Series, and are great from composing. These instruments are full, loud and deep, and can hold lower frequencies very well.
12" x 6.5", 8 Notes, 10lbs. $550CAD
Rise to your musical potential with the versatility of the ten note ascension series. These instruments are as sturdy as the ancient mountains, and as boundless and beautiful as the views from the highest soaring peaks.
The Ascension Series is a 14” steel tongue drum. One of our professional models, and one of our most popular products. This instrument comes with 10 notes, in a variety of scales, with great depth and sustain. A great choice for beginners wanting a mid-priced product.
14" x 6", 10 Notes, 10.5lbs. $625CAD
Find new depths in your music with the melodic vibrations of our sonorous and powerfully resonant deep bass series. Create rhythms and melodies ranging from the serenity and peacefulness of a glass calm sea, to the power, depth and magnitude of the rolling ocean swells.
The Deep Bass is a 14” steel-tongue drum made from heat-treated carbon-steel shells for optimal sound quality. These instruments are heavy and have a large resonating chamber, but because of this, they also have amazing sustain and incredible tone. It is a great instrument for sitting down and transporting yourself into new realms.
14" x 7.5", 10 Notes, 14lbs. $675CAD
In Greek mythology, Hyperion is known to represent light and wisdom. Connect with your celestial ancestors as you channel the energy of the father of the sun, the moon, and the dawn, and find a new depth to your music with the layered overtones this beautiful instrument provides!
One of our professional models, with an absolutely exquisite sound. Available in a large amount of scales, with perfectly tuned overtones. One of our most popular instruments.
14" x 6", 10 Notes, 10.5lbs. $725CAD
Become inspired to create the blueprints of your masterpiece and allow your innovation and creativity to flourish with the myriad of possibilities our architect series provides.
The Architect Series is a 15 note steel tongue drum, that encompasses 2 complete octaves. From C3 to C5 in C Major or D3 to D5 in D minor. A complete diatonic scale with 15 notes, allowing for vast compositions to be created. This is a professional model, that is great for the serious music players.
16" x 6.5", 15 Notes, 11.5lbs. $699CAD
Helios is known as the god of the sun, blessing the world with light and warmth as he traverses the sky in his golden chariot. Illuminate your musical journey and let your radiant inner light shine with this versatile and reverent series.
The Helios 2.0 is a 17” overtone tonguepan made from a heat-treated high-carbon steel for optimal sound quality. Each tongue on the Helios 2.0 is tuned with 1 overtone (an octave of the fundamental tone) using the Linotune program, to give additional layers to their sound profile.
17" x 7", 10 Notes, 9lbs. $850CAD
Zenith' means “the point in the sky or celestial sphere directly above an observer,” or “the time at which something is most powerful or successful.”
The Zenith tonguepan is a 12 note, steel percussion instrument that has a tuned harmonic series in every tongue (2-5 partials, depending on the note). It is made from 2 hydro-formed shells of our special high-carbon material, 19” (48cm) in diameter, with a 3mm thick top shell for great note clarity and sustain. Like our smaller Helios tonguepan, the Zenith comes with our special “technomantic finish" which is a patina and clear- powder coat finish. It also has a built in pick-up system, rubber feet, rubber rim, and laser etched sound hole plug.
19.5" x 7", 12 Notes, 10lbs
2. The Sound
The Music Theory Of Melodic Steel Instruments
Understanding scales for melodic steel instruments can be a little confusing at first glance, as we need to talk about music theory. If you don't understand this right away, that is okay! It's a thorough explanation and is quite dense, and reading or grasping this won't affect your overall playing experience. If you want to skip, you can scroll down to either “Tension, Musical Flavours and Sound Healing” our the below scale table, to get a quicker idea of the scales you may like.
So with that said, read on for a deeper explanation of music theory and how it relates to these instruments.
If you are completely new to music, or have been exposed to just a little bit of theory, the terms used on our website may seem a little nebulous. I will do my best to remove the fog, but to do that we will need a starting point to set forth from. A "C Major Scale" is something most people are familiar with, so for the following explanation I will use that.
Before we get into the scale, we need to look at an individual note, as that will help us moving forward. The note we will look at is C4. The C refers to the note, and the number 4 refers to the octave that the C is part of. Middle C on the piano is C4, and a standard piano has 7 octaves. An octave consists of going from a C to C on the keys, and all notes between those two. The lower the number, the lower the octave, the lower the sound, and vice versa.
Octave Examples; C2 – C3, C4 – C5, C6 – C7, etc.
In music theory there is a hierarchy of scales, with three main layers. Those layers are the chromatic scale, the diatonic scales, and the musical modes. Musical modes can then broken down even further into the esoterically named scales used for melodic steel instruments, but we will cover that a bit further down in the “Tension, Musical Flavours and Sound Healing” section.
To start, the chromatic scale contains every note available in music. This would entail playing through all the white and black notes on a piano keyboard sequentially. So C4, C#4, D4, D#4, E4, F4, etc and moving on from there. Because a chromatic scale uses all of the notes, they are not considered to have a key, and can only be identified by the note they start on (The root note). We do not use chromatic scales on our instruments, as the sympathetic resonance created while playing causes them to sound poorly.
A musical key is defined by the number of sharps (#) and flats (b) in the sequence of notes, which dictate whether it is a major or a minor, based on the root note chosen. The C major scale has no sharps or flats, (none of the black keys are played on the piano when playing a C major scale), and all the notes are considered “natural”. You can learn more about keys, and their corresponding sharps and flats by consulting a table known as “The Circle of Fifths”.
*Any key that can be chosen for a steel percussion instrument has a similar learning curve. What adds difficulty is the amount of tension within the chosen scale, or if the instrument is going to be played with other instruments. Uncommon keys can make mixing instruments more challenging, but not impossible.
The root note is what note you generally start your composition on, however, for more complex pieces, the root can be looked to as “How you resolve musical tension”, or “How you bring the music home”. By resolving the tension or bringing the music home, you are creating a finality in the musical composition, and bringing that phrase to a close. In the ever popular Old MacDonald song, the phrase goes “Old MacDonald had a farm, ee ay ee ay oh”. The “oh” is the resolution of the musical tension.
Diatonic scales are next, and they are based around a particular key. The C Major Diatonic scales goes sequentially through all the notes within the key of C Major and resolving on the next C in the octave (C4 going up to C5): C4 D4 E4 F4 G4 A4 B4 C5. So as you can see, it is all natural notes (They are not augmented with a sharp/# or flat/b symbol). A D minor diatonic scale has one flat (Bb) and all the rest of the notes are natural: D4 E4 F4 G4 A4 Bb4 C5 D5. There are major and minor keys for every note in the chromatic scale. C major/minor, C# major/minor, etc.
Every key also has a major and relative minor relationship between notes. For example, C Major and A minor are relative keys and share the same notes, however, they start on a different root note.
C Major: C4 D4 E4 F4 G4 A4 B4 C5
A minor: A4 B4 C5 D5 E5 F5 G5 A5
Using the relative relationships between the major and minor keys is a good place to start to find harmonious combinations, when combining instrument you would like to play together.
The next subdivision in this hierarchy is musical modes. Modes start on a particular note in a specific diatonic scale, and then play through that scale back to the same note creating a modal octave. There are seven musical modes, each relating to a particular note (or interval) of the Diatonic scale. So again, going back to that C Major Diatonic, if we start on the C3 that is technically the Ionian Mode (I). Starting on the D3, we would have the Dorian mode (II). Or if we started on the G3 we would have the Mixolydian mode (V).
For a C Major Diatonic the modes go as follows:
C4, is the Ionian Mode (I)
D4 is the Dorian Mode (II)
E4 is the Phrygian (III)
F4 is the Lydian (IV)
G4 is the Mixolydian (V)
A4 is the Aeolian (VI) *Aeolian Mode is the natural minor, C's relative minor.*
B4 is the Locrian Mode (VII)
All the way back to C5 which start the modal sequence again, with the Ionian (I).
Now having said all that, there is still one more layer to go down. You can have two different C Major scales, with very different flavours, simply by choosing a different sequence of intervals from a musical mode to build your scale. So taking the C major, starting on the C3 (So both of these scales are Ionian mode based) we can make 2 different scales:
1. C3 E3 G3 C4 D4 F4 G4 B4
2. C3 B3 D4 E4 F4 A4 C5 D5
Both of these scales are technically in C major, and based on the Ionian mode, however they are not a perfectly sequential musical mode. These scales now need a name which differentiates them from other scales, so that customers or other makers can identify them easily. This is why we get the names such as Sabye, Golden Gate, etc.
You can then go on to make an infinite number of scales by choosing different musical modes to start on and selecting different sequences of intervals. Many of the esoteric scales will mirror the musical modes in some ways, however, they may not follow the sequence exactly. Instead, choosing a particular selection of intervals from the diatonic to complete whatever musical flavour a particular maker decided to produce. This is why there is such variation in the scale flavours and names.
So after all that, you may wonder why makers are going through all that difficulty to create these scales, and not just use the diatonic scales as they are so much easier to deal with. Well aside from a desire to experiment with strong musical flavours, a bit of history about the physical limitations of these instruments is needed to expand the understanding.
When handpans and tongue drums were in the early phases of development, they usually only had 8 notes, chosen from across 3 octaves (C3 – C5). Original makers also had to contend with note size and physical limitations of the instruments. On the early PANart Hang, the shell sizes weren't of a large enough diameter or made deep enough to allow a C3, D3, and E3 all on the same instrument. If you have ever seen a handpan, you will understand, as larger notes require a larger surface area to be made, and so there are space restrictions for what note sequences can be produced. Because of the small amount of notes that were being made on any single instrument, and makers having to work with a restrictive instrument size, a lot of musical variation was created.
The esoteric scales have peculiar names such as “Celtic Minor”, “High Arboreal” and “Hijaz”. Some, such as the Hijaz are based strongly on one of these musical modes. Where as a scale such as a Celtic minor, is more loosely based on the Aeolian mode. When a new scale is developed it is usually named by the person conceptualizing it, and they may give it a name for any particular reason. A feeling, a memory it elicits, a composition it resembles, anything really. Because this naming system is free-form you may have 2 scales that go by different names such as “Kurd” and “Annaziska” but that are basically the same, but were developed by different makers. This is a challenge, and something the industry as a whole grapples with, and why I have created this long explanation to try and bring some clarity to something that is frequently asked about.
I hope this has been informative, and with that information percolating in your mind, we can now move onto Tension, Musical Flavours, and Sound Healing.
Start this off by asking yourself: “What sounds am I more drawn to? Would I prefer playing in a happier and brighter sounding scale (Major) or a more emotional and darker scale (minor)?” Here is a list of both the Major and minor scales we offer to help you begin sorting through our recordings.
In music, the key of a composition is defined by what notes are being played (Which are derived from a particular Major or Minor scale). A popular Major scale is C Major (All the white keys on the piano) and E minor is a popular minor scale (A lot of blues guitar is played in E minor). Here are the most popular Major and Minor keys we offer:
Major: E, F, G, C
Minor: C, D, E, F
On the drop down menu for each particular product, the standard (or most commonly purchased) scale and key pair will be what you are able to select, so if this information is getting over your head, you can choose what the drop down menu offers. We promise that you won't be disappointed! However, most custom scales and keys are possible, you just need to ask.
4. The Frequency
Our Steel Tongue Drums can be made in 432hz or 440hz.
432Hz is known as the “Universal frequency” and is considered by many to be a more healing, and harmonious frequency. 432hz is slightly lower in tone (a little less than half a step), but the overall sound differences are not very noticeable. You can learn more about 432Hz here.
440Hz is the concert standard, and is what a piano, cello, or guitar is usually tuned to. If you are wanting to play with any of those instruments, 440Hz would be the frequency to choose.
5. The Finish
We offer a wide range of colour options on our instruments but our standard combinations are: AquaBurst (Blue gradient), ForestBurst (Green gradient), SolarBurst (Red Gradient) and AuroraBurst (Fuschia-Purple-Blue Gradient), and Forge Finish (Flame Coloured). Please explore the pictures here on our website or social media pages to get an idea of all the different colour combinations that are possible. Generally any picture you see of our instruments is possible, there are a lot of shades we can make. If you have a unique colour combination in mind that you would like on your instrument, we can do our best to accommodate you. Unique colour combinations are subject to what powder-coatings we currently have in stock, although custom colours can be ordered from our supplier for an additional charge dependent on powder price.