Purchasing a handpan is a significant investment and one that we feel should bring a lifetime of enjoyment to the player. One of the magical parts of these instruments is that they are typically composed of only one scale. This allows the player to free themselves from their mind and focus more on an emotional, kinetic and spiritual inspiration during their playing. It is important however to choose a scale that speaks to your heart, your emotions, and your spirit.
At Saraz, we have developed one of the largest offered scale lists of any builder worldwide. This is mostly because we have developed 3 sizes of Saraz in order to stabilize the internal resonance of every note in our range. The long list of options can be intimidating however when our customers are trying to decide upon their first handpan. We hope that this article helps in your decision making process.
Three things to consider when choosing a Saraz Handpan
1. Instrument Size
We offer the Saraz in 3 sizes including our 19″, 20″ and 21″ diameter instruments. We have found that for some of our customers, it is worth considering their body type and how they will be playing the instrument. Will it primarily be played on your lap or on a stand? Our smaller instruments are much easier for those of us with shorter arms and legs. Our smaller instruments are also lighter and easier to carry while traveling. If size is not a consideration, then you will find that more than 50% of our scale options are 21″ diameter instruments because this size offers the most space for notes and works best for many scales.
2. What scale type speaks most to you?
We offer many different scales and scale types, however they can be broken down and organized into some fairly simple categories including: Minor, Harmonic Minor/Phrygian, Dorian, Major, and Mixolydian. The following is a brief description of the emotional feel of each. They are also listed in order of their popularity on the handpan.
The minor scale often feels mysterious. It can also feel driving, intense and even suspenseful depending on how it is played. 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 are not far behind in popularity.
The Celtic Minor variations that exclude the tension filled minor 6th scale degree are very popular. These scales tend to have a good amount of mystery but also offer some positive resolve. They can be relaxing and also driving and intense. Examples can be found in our
C# Minor, D Minor, and Eb Minor scale options.
Also very popular is the Integral minor scale form, which is a hexatonic scale form that features the perfect 5th adjacent to the minor 6th while excluding the 4th scale degree. This scale form was named and popularized by Panart on the Integral Hang in D minor. This scale form tends to be mostly mysterious. It has a little more driving intensity and even suspense than the Celtic Minor because the player can really focus on the half step tension between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. Examples of Saraz scales in this form can be found in our E Minor, F Minor, F# Minor, and G Minor scale options.
If this scale form speaks to you AND you are concerned about size, then perhaps our 20″ diameter Celtic D Minor or our 19″ Eb Minor or G Minor is the best choice.
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 Hijaz and Tarznauyn. We consider these scales our most intense and suspenseful. In classical music, these scales are often used to build intensity and suspense before resolving the composition. We often imagine these scales being perfect for the sound track of an action movie and used at the climax of intensity just before the movie ends. They are also extremely common in Middle Eastern Music.
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.
If you are also considering a smaller size, then the 19″ G Harmonic Minor or our 20″ D Phrygian may be the best choice. If you are concerned about playing with others in traditional western music played in the most popular musical keys, then a Harmonic Minor/ Phrygian Scale is probably not for you. However, if you are interested in explore the spice of Middle Eastern Music, then these are the scales you may want to explore first in your decision making process.
Our next most popular scales are E Dorian and F Dorian. Similar to the Minor scale, they are only one note different. They relieve a bit of the tension of the Minor 6th scale degree by raising it 1 note and offer a bit more spiritually meditative and contemplative emotion. One of the more popular handpan scales in the dorian mode is the “La Sirena” popularized by Pantheon Steel. We offer the scale in both E Dorian and F Dorian.
Mixolydian and Major
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.
If you are considering size while choosing an uplifting scale, then perhaps a 20″ D Major, 20″ F Major, or a 19″ F# Major might be the best choice. If you are considering being able to play with other people in the most popular musical scales, then no doubt C Major is the best choice.
3. Do you plan to play with other musicians and musical instruments?
If so, perhaps you are already familiar with musical scales and know what you want to play with your friends. If not, then consider the following chart of the most popular scales used in Western Music. While we offer scales that will work with all of these options, our #1 recommendation is usually to get a D Minor if you plan to play with others because it is a popular and also versatile scale.
Currently, the most popular handpan scales do not follow the pattern of the most popular keys in music. Instead the most popular handpan scales have been the most widely available and publicized ones. During the earlier days of these instruments, Panart popularized a hexatonic version of the D minor scale, which they called the Integral Hang ®. 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 however as more handpan builders continue building more scales. By building multiple sizes of handpans, builders are able to explore far more scale possibilities with stable resonance. As more builders explore more handpan scales, perhaps eventually the popularity of handpan scales will match the general popularity of musical keys.