Is it a Hang Drum or a Handpan?

Both Hang Drum and Handpan are very commonly used by players 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 Bern, Switzerland. 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 they discourage its use 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 when the reality is that the tuning of these instruments is not developed to be so sturdy.

Panart has also stated that they consider the Hang ® to only be made by themselves. The term Hang Drum is basically a Proprietary Eponym. Other builders that have been inspired by the Hang ® to develop their own instruments were encouraged as soon as they started appearing to use a different name for their own instruments.  One of the first builders to appear was Pantheon Steel. Their tuner, Kyle Cox, coined the name Handpan around 2007 as a type of Steel Pan that is played with the hands. This came about as the moderators of explained Panart’s wishes on the use of the name and that the blog was only for the Hang ®.   Not long after this point, was created to discuss and explore the new builders that were inspired by the Hang ®. While has in recent years become primarily an information source about the Hang ®, remains a forum with a community of thousands of members that 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 very 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 want 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, who 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 awhile. Perhaps in 100 years, one of these terms will become more commonly used than the other. 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.