Hang Drum vs. Handpan

Players commonly use the terms “Hang Drum” and “Handpan” to describe the Saraz and all similar instruments. We have also seen multiple builders use both names to describe their own instruments, whether they have tuned membranes or cut tongues.

So why do we choose to call the Saraz a Handpan instead of a Hang Drum?

Much of the answer is within the short history of the two terms.

According to Wikipedia, “the Hang is a musical instrument in the idiophone class created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in BernSwitzerland. The name of their company is PANArt Hangbau AG.[3] The Hang is sometimes referred to as a hang drum, but the inventors consider this a misnomer and strongly discourage its use.”

We have heard over the years that one of the reasons that Panart discourages the use of the term “hang drum” is because it subconsciously leads people to believe that the instrument is a drum like a djembe or a conga and therefore can be played very hard with hands or mallets. In reality, the tuning of these instruments is not developed to be so sturdy.

Panart has also stated that they consider themselves to be the only true manufacturer of the Hang ®. The term Hang Drum is basically a Proprietary Eponym. Other builders who have been inspired by the Hang ® to develop their own instruments were encouraged to use a different name for their own instruments.

One of the next builders to emerge was Pantheon Steel. Their tuner, Kyle Cox, coined the name Handpan around 2007 to describe a type of steel pan that is played with the hands. This came about as the moderators of HangBlog.org explained Panart’s wishes on the use of the name.

Not long after this point, Handpan.org was created to discuss and explore the new builders who were inspired by the Hang ®. While Hangblog.org has become primarily an information source about the Hang ® in recent years, Handpan.org remains a forum with a community of thousands of members who explore endless details about established builders, playing, making, and maintaining handpans as well as about gatherings of people that come together to explore these instruments around the world.

We regularly see Saraz customers post videos of our instruments and call them Hang Drums whether we like it or not. We have no choice but to accept that it is ultimately up to the player to call their instruments whatever they wish even if the name is not in alignment with our desires and beliefs or those of other companies and enthusiasts. This is especially true in these young days of this art form. A couple other examples include Victor Levinson, who started using the name Pantam to describe his own SPB instruments and at least one player that refers to his SPB and Aciel instruments as Cupolas.

It appears very likely that at least the terms Hang Drum and Handpan are both going to be around for a while. In 2017, online search trends show that the term “Handpan” is continuing to gain popularity over the term “Hang Drum”. Perhaps in 100 years, one of these terms will become the dominate term. Until then, we will refer to the Saraz as a Handpan in reverence to the roots of tuned steel in Trinidad and in respect to the inspiration that first sprouted in Switzerland.