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Every Name for the Handpan, Explained

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Is a hang drum different than a handpan? And what on earth is a pantam?


Feeling a bit mixed up with what’s what? Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Today we’ll go through some of the most common terms used for this instrument that we love and the story behind each.


Let’s go!


 

Hang


Hang (pronounced like "hung/hong"), plural “Hanghang”, was the name given to PANArt’s original creation, the first of these style instruments, released in 2001. Hang is a Swiss-German word that means hand. PANArt does not typically refer to the hang as an instrument, but instead calls their creations “sound sculptures”.


Hang is a term used exclusively for the original PANArt sound sculpture and should not be used to label any other similar musical instruments from other makers.


 

Handpan


Handpan is quickly becoming the most known and most used term for these instruments. The term “handpan” dates back to 2007 and is credited to American handpan pioneer and founder of Pantheon Steel, Kyle Cox. Cox first coined the term as an alternative to PANArt’s copyrighted “hang” terminology. For Kyle the term was an obvious choice as the instrument, being an outgrowth of the Trinidadian steelpan, was essentially a “pan” that was played with the hands as opposed to mallets.


The term “handpan” is a general one and can be used to describe most instruments of this style regardless of their individual brand or specific names.


 

Hang Drum

Hang drum is a misnomer term commonly used to describe any instrument loosely resembling a handpan. The term originated when the US distributor of the original PANArt hang, Lark in the Morning, had difficulties marketing the sound sculpture simply as “hang” and thus attached the word “drum” to convey its percussive nature. PANArt has come out strongly against the term citing that it is a misrepresentation of their creation and can lead to damage and misuse.


The term “hang drum” is incorrect and should not be used to describe any handpan-style instruments.


 

Hangpan


Much like “hang drum” the term “hangpan” is a misnomer. This term most likely stems from a mix-up combination of the terms, “handpan” and “hang”, or “hang drum”.


The term “hangpan” is incorrect and should not be used to describe any handpan-style instruments.


 

Pantam


The term Pantam originated in 2004 from Ziv Yehezkel an early distributor of the PANArt hang. The term is a combination of the words Pan (steelpan) and Ghatam, the main two instruments said to be the original inspiration behind the PANArt hang. Some advocates of this term believe that not all handpan style instruments are pantams, but rather that pantams have their own specific sonic qualities that distinguish them as unique.


The term pantam is a general one and can be used to describe most instruments of this style regardless of their individual brand or specific names.


 

Cupola


The cupola is a term created by Finnish musician and composer Lauri Wuolio circa 2010. Wuolio wanted to find a word that didn’t emphasize the connection to the steelpan, but rather express the independence of this new art form. In architecture Cupola means a small dome, to Wuolio this parallel is reflective of the artistic nature of the instrument which emphasizes this in a poetic and unique way.


The term cupola is a general one and can be used to describe most instruments of this style regardless of their individual brand or specific names.


 

Spacedrum


The term spacedrum is twofold:


1. Spacedrum is the brand name of the handpan style instruments made by French company Metal Sounds™.


2. The term spacedrum is frequently used incorrectly as a generic term for any handpan style instrument.


The term spacedrum is not a generic term to refer to handpan style instruments but instead a specific brand name and should not be used to refer to any instruments but those made by Metal Sounds™.


 

Hank Drum


The term “Hank Drum” was first coined by musician and craftsman Dennis Havlena for his propane tank based steel tongue drums


These instruments are not in the handpan family so this term shouldn’t be used to describe any handpan-style instruments.


 

While this list could be much longer, I’ll leave it at these eight for the time being. If you’re wondering which term is the best, remember the renowned words of the great William Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

 

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