It seems that the most popular Handpan, Hang ® and Pantam scales do not currently follow the pattern of the most popular keys in music.
Instead it appears that the most popular scales in this instrument’s short history have been the most widely available and publicized scales. During the earlier days of these instruments, Panart popularized a hexatonic version of the D minor scale, which they called the Integral Hang ®. Many people feel that these were among the finest instruments Panart has made. Victor Levinson, the creator of the SPB Pantam, further popularized the D minor scale by producing a number of Kurd 9 Pantam that featured a full scale variation of D minor.
The popularity of D minor has been changing for years however as more handpan builders continue building far more scales. Just as Panart built many different scales in the earlier days of the Hang, other builders are now exploring a wide variety of scale possibilities, some of which also go beyond western tuning.
At Saraz, we have noticed that a few of our scales are much more popular than others. Generally speaking, Minor scales are by far the most popular Saraz requests. C# minor and D minor Saraz are both popular choices with F# minor and G minor not far behind in popularity.
Also very popular is the Integral minor scale form, which is a hexatonic scale form that features the perfect fifth adjacent to the minor 6th while excluding the 4th scale degree. Examples include E Minor, F Minor, F# Minor, and G Minor.
The next most popular category of Saraz requests are Harmonic Minor and Phrygian. Panart, SPB, and Pantheon Steel have all helped popularize Harmonic Minor and Phrygian scale forms, which have often been referred to as a Hijaz and Tarznauyn. We have found that our D Phrygian and G Harmonic Minor scales are our most requested Phrygian and Harmonic Minors while E Harmonic Minor, F# Harmonic Minor and G Phrygian are not far behind in popularity.
While many handpan players prefer the more mysterious or suspenseful qualities of the previous scales, other handpan players prefer an instrument that is uplifting, positive and happy. We have found that these people tend to request C# Mixolydian, D Mixolydian, E Mixolydian and E Major.
By building multiple sizes of handpans, builders are able to explore far more scale possibilities with stable resonance. We are currently exploring more scales on the current three sizes of Saraz and have a number of new scales in development. As more handpan builders explore more handpan scales, perhaps eventually the popularity of handpan scales will match the general popularity of musical keys. Time will tell as the future becomes the past.