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Steel Pan,  National Instrument

VISIT: to learn more...


The steelpan was invented in Trinidad and Tobago and is widely regarded as the only major musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century.

In order to emit that orchestral sound, every group of pans needs to have a certain range.

The sound and form of steelpan continues to be experimented with and new variations and ranges are being explored on an ongoing basis.

Due to repressive acts by the colonial authorities such as the banning of the African drum and the attempts to stifle non-European cultural expressions not only steeled the will of the practitioners of street culture, but also sent a message to the colonials that they would meet stiff resistance to their efforts to brutalise the masses for merely expressing themselves.

The Tamboo Bamboo ensemble took the place of African drums to provide rhythmic accompaniment for the Afro-Creole street culture. An ensemble made up of different lengths and sizes of bamboo which simulated the four main voices of music, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. This was the precursor of the steelband movement.  By 1930 other elements had begun to creep into the tamboo bamboo band.

The gin bottle and spoon and small scraps of metal were used increasingly to supplement the decibel level of the band, as a louder din was required.

The ping pong was a small hand-held pan cut from a paint tin or carbide container. 

When steel pans first emerged in the 1930’s they were not taken seriously. The instruments and their creators were looked down on by the upper class of Trinidad society because they were made and played by persons from the ghettos.

Also, criminal elements had an unfortunate love of steel band music. Performances of rival bands often ended in violence and steel pans were considered the instruments of hooligans!

Time and exposure eventually eroded this stigma and the steel pan is now the national instrument of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago and a source of great pride for its citizens. Steel pan and its innovators are now held in high regard by persons of all levels of society in Trinidad and Tobago.



Winston ‘Spree’ Simon - is credited with creating the first ‘melody pan’ which carried eight pitches. This was the first pan that could accommodate an entire melody.


Ellie Mannette - is credited with being the first to wrap the playing sticks with rubber (which softened the attack and produced a more refined tone). He was also the first to sink the surface of a pan into its now characteristic concave shape (this allowed for more pitches to be placed on the playing surface).

Anthony Williams - is credited with inventing the ‘spider web pan’ which was designed in a cycle of fourths and fifths. (Pans with intervallic formulas are easier to tune and produce a higher quality sound). This layout is now the most popular and accepted design for tenor (lead) pans. 

Mr. Williams is also credited with being one of the first in steel pan history to use large 55 gallon drums as starting material for the pans, a tradition that continues to this day.

Bertie Marshall - credited with inventing the double tenor pan. He also recognized the negative effects the sun had on steel pan and was the first to place canopies over the instruments when they were played outdoors.

VISIT: to learn more.

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