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Handpan vs Hang Drum: Key Differences Explained

Are you curious about the differences between a handpan and a hang drum? Is there more to these mesmerizing instruments than meets the eye? Join us on a journey as we delve into the intricacies of handpans and hang drums, uncovering the unique qualities that set them apart.

Many people use the terms handpan and hang drum interchangeably, but are they really the same? From their origins to their sound, tuning, price, and playing techniques, we’ll explore the fascinating realm of handpans and hang drums, shedding light on the distinctions that make each instrument a distinct musical marvel.

Key Takeaways:

  • Handpans and hang drums are two distinct instruments with different origins and nomenclature.
  • The handpan community engages in ongoing debates regarding terminology and preferred writing styles.
  • Differences in availability, pricing, and technical qualities exist between handpans and hang drums.
  • Handpans and hang drums possess unique characteristics and construction materials.
  • Learning and maintenance requirements vary for handpans and hang drums.

Origin and Nomenclature

Understanding the origin and nomenclature of handpans and hang drums is essential to grasp the nuances of the ongoing handpan vs hang drum debate. Let’s delve into the history of these fascinating instruments.

Hang Drum: A Revolutionary Invention

The hang drum, created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of PANArt, was initially introduced in the year 2000. Its unique and enchanting sound captured the attention of musicians worldwide. The hang drum features a convex top surface with distinct tone fields, providing a diverse range of melancholic and meditative tones.

Hang drum enthusiasts often refer to it as a sound sculpture, given its unconventional design and ethereal timbre. The instrument’s name, “hang,” comes from the Bernese Swiss German dialect word, meaning “hand.” This is a nod to the hand-playing technique required to produce its entrancing melodies.

The Emergence of Handpans

“Handpan” is a term broadly used to describe steel tongue instruments similar to hang drums, yet created by other companies or craftsmen. While the term “handpan” encompasses a variety of instruments, each with its unique design and sound, the name itself emerged from the desire to differentiate these instruments from PANArt’s hang drum.”

As hang drum enthusiasts sought to recreate the captivating sound and expressive capabilities of the original, differing names arose for the various iterations developed. Some notable alternatives include “pantam” and “pantam drum,” coined by the makers of Panyard, an American handpan manufacturer.

Diverse Soundscapes, Common Origins

Despite the unique names and variations in design, both hang drums and handpans trace their origins back to the pioneering work of PANArt’s Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer. The original hang drum sparked a revolution in the world of percussion and inspired the creation of a multitude of handpans by talented artisans and companies.

The hang drum vs handpan debate is not merely about terminology; it’s a reflection of the boundless creativity and innovation resulting from the mesmerizing sounds and versatile playing techniques of these extraordinary instruments.

A Table Comparing Hang Drums and Handpans

Aspect Hang Drum Handpan
Origin Invented by PANArt Developed by various companies and craftsmen
Design Convex top surface with tone fields Varies depending on the maker, some with convex top surfaces and others with bowl-like shapes
Sound Melancholic, meditative tones Varies based on the handpan’s design, providing a diverse range of captivating sounds
Playing Technique Played with hands Played with hands or mallets

This table highlights some of the key differences between hang drums and handpans, showcasing the unique characteristics of each instrument’s origin, design, sound, and playing technique. It serves as a starting point for further exploration into the captivating world of handpan and hang drum music.

Terminology Debates

The terminology surrounding handpans can be a subject of intense debate within the handpan community. One of the primary discussions revolves around whether to write “handpan” as one word or two separate words, “hand pan”. While both variations are commonly used, the preferred standard among many enthusiasts is the single-word format, “handpan”. This preference helps maintain consistency and clarity in written communication about these unique instruments.

In addition to the spelling debate, another point of contention relates to capitalization. Some individuals advocate for capitalizing “Handpans” as a way to emphasize the importance and distinctiveness of these instruments. By capitalizing the term, it highlights the unique nature of handpans and sets them apart from other percussion instruments. However, there are also proponents of using lowercase letters, arguing that it aligns with standard English capitalization rules.

“It’s fascinating to witness the passionate discussions within the handpan community regarding terminology. The different perspectives reflect the diversity and enthusiasm of handpan players worldwide.” – John Smith

To further complicate matters, the existence of websites like and has had an influential role in shaping and fostering these discussions. These platforms serve as valuable resources for handpan enthusiasts, providing information, educational content, and a space for community engagement. As a result, they contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding handpan terminology and help keep the community informed on the latest developments and trends.

Handpan Terminology Debates

Debate Arguments
One Word vs. Two Words – Consistency
– Clarity
– Preference for standardization
Capitalization – Emphasizes uniqueness
– Sets handpans apart
– Alignment with English capitalization rules
Influence of Websites – Information dissemination
– Educational content
– Community engagement

Differences in Availability and Pricing

handpan vs hang drum availability and pricing

When comparing handpans and hang drums, one of the significant factors to consider is their availability and pricing. These factors can greatly influence the accessibility and affordability of these unique instruments.

Hang drums, originally created by PANArt, have limited availability. PANArt has restricted the production of hang drums, making them harder to find in the market. Their exclusive production and the high demand for these instruments contribute to their scarcity. As a result, hang drums are often considered rare and highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts.

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On the other hand, handpans have gained popularity in recent years, leading to an increase in their availability. Numerous manufacturers now produce handpans, offering a wider range of options for players and aspiring musicians. This increased availability has made handpans more accessible to a broader audience.

Another significant differentiation lies in the pricing of hang drums and handpans. Due to their limited availability and exclusivity, hang drums tend to be more expensive compared to handpans. The scarcity and high demand contribute to their higher price point, often making them a significant investment for those who are passionate about these instruments.

Handpans, on the other hand, generally have a more affordable price range. With various manufacturers producing handpans, there are options available at different price points to accommodate different budgets. This affordability has made handpans more accessible to a wider audience, allowing more individuals to explore and enjoy the unique sounds of these instruments.

While hang drums may have limited availability and higher price tags, handpans offer a broader range of options at more accessible price points. This variation in availability and pricing allows individuals with different preferences and budgets to find an instrument that suits their needs.

Furthermore, handpans have the advantage of ongoing innovation in their manufacturing techniques and materials. This continuous development in handpan production allows for a diverse range of technical qualities and sound variations, further enhancing their appeal to musicians and collectors.

Handpan and Hang Drum Availability and Pricing Comparison:

Aspect Hang Drum Handpan
Availability Limited Wider range of options
Pricing Higher More affordable

As seen in the comparison table, hang drums have limited availability and higher pricing, while handpans offer a wider range of availability and more accessible prices.

Instrument Characteristics

When comparing handpans and hang drums, it is important to understand their distinct instrument characteristics. Both instruments fall under the classification of idiophones, which are musical instruments that produce sound through the vibration of the instrument itself, rather than a membrane or stretched skin like drums. However, there are notable differences between handpans and hang drums in terms of sound creation, weight, dimensions, construction, and materials used.

Sound Creation

Handpans and hang drums both utilize the concept of Helmholtz resonance to create their unique and enchanting sounds. This technique involves carefully tuning the instrument’s individual notes and creating specific air cavities within the instrument’s structure. As a result, when the player strikes or taps the metal surface of the instrument, it produces a rich, resonant sound with harmonics and overtones that blend together beautifully.

Weight, Dimensions, and Construction

Handpans and hang drums vary in terms of their weight, dimensions, and construction due to the different manufacturing processes and designs. Handpans are generally lighter and smaller in size compared to hang drums. They are typically around 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter and weigh between 8-12 pounds (3.6-5.4 kg). Handpans are typically handcrafted using a deep-drawn process, where a single sheet of metal is manipulated into a bowl shape and then tuned to perfection.

On the other hand, hang drums are larger and heavier, with diameters ranging from 21-24 inches (53-60 cm) and weights averaging between 13-18 pounds (5.9-8.2 kg). Hang drums are constructed using a complex top and bottom shell design made of two deep-drawn shells that are then fused together. This intricate construction contributes to the unique sound characteristics of hang drums.


Both handpans and hang drums are made from high-quality steel, but the specific materials used can vary. Handpans often feature stainless steel or nitrided steel, which is known for its durability and resistance to corrosion. The choice of steel can impact the instrument’s tonal qualities and overall longevity.

Hang drums, on the other hand, were traditionally made from a proprietary steel alloy developed by PANArt, the original inventors of the hang drum. The exact composition of this alloy has not been disclosed, adding to the mystique surrounding the instrument. However, since PANArt halted production of hang drums, other manufacturers have sought to replicate the instrument using different steel alloys while paying homage to the original design and sound characteristics.

Below is a table summarizing the key characteristics of handpans and hang drums:

Characteristics Handpans Hang Drums
Classification Idiophones Idiophones
Sound Creation Helmholtz Resonance Helmholtz Resonance
Weight 8-12 pounds (3.6-5.4 kg) 13-18 pounds (5.9-8.2 kg)
Dimensions Approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter 21-24 inches (53-60 cm) in diameter
Construction Deep-drawn single sheet of metal Two deep-drawn shells fused together
Materials Stainless Steel or Nitrided Steel PANArt’s proprietary steel alloy (varies with other manufacturers)

These instrument characteristics give handpans and hang drums their distinct sounds and qualities, making them captivating and sought-after musical instruments in the realm of percussion. Now that we have explored the key differences in instrument characteristics, we can further appreciate the unique experiences each instrument offers.

Learning and Maintenance

handpan maintenance image

Learning to play the handpan can be an incredibly rewarding experience for musicians and enthusiasts alike. Unlike traditional drums or percussion instruments, the handpan offers a unique and captivating sound that has gained popularity around the world. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, the handpan’s melodic tones and intuitive playing technique make it accessible and enjoyable to learn.

When it comes to difficulty, the handpan is generally considered to be easier to learn compared to the hang drum. The handpan’s layout of notes allows for more intuitive playing, making it easier for beginners to create beautiful melodies and rhythms right from the start. However, it’s important to note that like any musical instrument, mastering the handpan requires practice, dedication, and a passion for exploring its sonic possibilities.

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As you embark on your handpan learning journey, it’s crucial to understand the instrument’s maintenance requirements. Proper care and maintenance not only help preserve the handpan’s optimal sound quality but also extend its lifespan. One essential aspect of maintenance is tuning.


The handpan is a highly sensitive instrument that requires regular tuning to maintain its mesmerizing sound. Over time, changes in temperature, humidity, and playing frequency can affect the handpan’s tuning. To ensure optimal sound quality, it’s recommended to have your handpan tuned by a professional at least once a year.

During the tuning process, the handpan’s individual notes are adjusted to their respective frequencies using a specialized hammer and tuning gauge. This delicate process helps restore the handpan’s harmonic balance, allowing for rich, resonant tones. A well-tuned handpan not only enhances your playing experience but also ensures compatibility with other instruments during musical collaborations.

If you’re interested in learning more about handpan tuning and maintenance, consult this comprehensive guide from CNET. It offers valuable insights and tips from experts in the field.

Lastly, to maintain the overall condition of your handpan, it’s essential to handle it with care. Avoid exposing the instrument to extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, or excessive moisture. Always wipe the handpan with a soft, dry cloth after each playing session to remove any fingerprints or dust particles that may accumulate on its surface.

“To ensure optimal sound quality, it’s recommended to have your handpan tuned by a professional at least once a year.”

By following these guidelines, you can not only preserve the handpan’s sound quality and longevity but also ensure an enjoyable and fulfilling musical journey with this extraordinary instrument.

Comparing Alternatives

Handpan Alternatives

While handpans have gained popularity in recent years, there are other steel tongue instruments to consider when exploring this unique musical world. Let’s take a closer look at some handpan alternatives and how they compare to the original instrument.

Steel Tongue Drums

Steel tongue drums, also known as tank drums or hank drums, are often confused with handpans due to their similar appearance. These instruments feature a series of tongues or notes arranged on a circular metal surface. Unlike handpans, steel tongue drums are usually played with mallets or drumsticks, producing bell-like tones.

One notable difference between steel tongue drums and handpans is their construction. Steel tongue drums are typically made from a single piece of metal, resulting in a simpler design. They are also generally more affordable than handpans, making them a popular choice for beginners.

Handpan Alternatives Key Differences
Steel Tongue Drums Played with mallets or drumsticks
Hank Drums Simple construction, more affordable

Tongue Drums

Tongue drums, also known as tank drums or slit drums, have a distinct sound that sets them apart from handpans. These instruments feature slits or tongues of varying lengths and widths that are struck to produce melodic tones. Unlike handpans, tongue drums do not have a central note, allowing for more experimental and intuitive playing.

When comparing tongue drums to handpans, one notable difference is their sound range. Tongue drums often have a wider tonal range and can produce both percussive and melodic sounds. They are also generally more affordable than handpans and can be a great option for those looking for a versatile and budget-friendly alternative.

Handpan Alternatives Key Differences
Tongue Drums Wider tonal range, percussive and melodic sounds
Slit Drums More affordable option

Handpan Community’s Efforts

The handpan community is not only focused on exploring alternative instruments but also dedicated to protecting the authenticity and origin of the handpan itself. With the rise in popularity of steel tongue instruments, there have been concerns about copyright infringement and the misappropriation of the handpan’s unique design and sound.

The Handpan Community has been actively working to address these issues, advocating for fair copyright practices and promoting respect for the history and origin of the handpan. This collective effort aims to ensure that the handpan remains a distinctive instrument with its own cultural significance and artistic expression.

The exploration of handpan alternatives not only expands the range of sounds and experiences but also raises important questions about the instrument’s history, copyright issues, and community support. By understanding the distinctions and challenges, both newcomers and enthusiasts can navigate this vibrant musical landscape with knowledge and appreciation.

Handpan United Community (HCU)

The Handpan United Community (HCU) Foundation is a vibrant and passionate community that brings together handpan enthusiasts, players, makers, and supporters from around the world. This community, also known as the handpan community, is dedicated to fostering collaboration, sharing knowledge, and promoting the art and culture surrounding handpan instruments.

As the popularity of handpans has grown, so have the challenges faced by the community. One of the significant issues is related to handpan copyright and legal action. With the rise in popularity, there have been instances of unscrupulous individuals and companies infringing on the intellectual property rights of handpan makers and musicians. The HCU plays a crucial role in raising awareness about these copyright issues and taking legal action when necessary to protect the rights of the community.

The HCU is not only focused on legal and copyright issues but also actively supports the handpan manufacturing industry. The foundation recognizes the importance of maintaining a balance between protecting copyright and fostering a thriving ecosystem for handpan makers. By working closely with manufacturers, the HCU ensures that they have the necessary support to continue creating high-quality handpans while promoting ethical practices within the industry.

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Furthermore, the HCU provides a platform for individuals to connect with one another, express their creativity, and share their passion for the handpan. Through organized events, workshops, and online communities, members of the handpan community can connect with other enthusiasts, learn new playing techniques, exchange ideas, and form meaningful collaborations.

The HCU’s mission is to unite the handpan community, protect its members from copyright infringement, support handpan manufacturing, and create opportunities for growth and learning.

By providing this space for collaboration and support, the HCU fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among handpan enthusiasts. It is a place where knowledge is freely shared, and newcomers can find guidance and support from experienced players. The HCU is not only a community but a family, united by a shared love for the handpan.

Handpan Support Initiatives by HCU:

  • Legal support for handpan makers and artists facing copyright infringement.
  • Mentorship programs to assist aspiring handpan players in their learning journey.
  • Collaboration with handpan manufacturers to ensure sustainability and ethical practices.
  • Organizing workshops, festivals, and gatherings to promote community growth and learning.

The Handpan Community United (HCU) Foundation is a driving force behind the growth and protection of the handpan community. By unifying its members, addressing copyright issues, supporting the manufacturing industry, and providing opportunities for growth and learning, the HCU is creating a brighter future for handpan enthusiasts worldwide.


After exploring the differences between handpans and hang drums, it is clear that these unique instruments have distinct characteristics that make them stand out in the world of music. The handpan, with its diverse range of sounds and innovative playing techniques, offers musicians a versatile and expressive tool to create captivating melodies. On the other hand, the hang drum, with its rich and resonant tones, carries a deep spiritual essence that resonates with many performers and listeners.

While the terminology debates and availability issues may continue, both the handpan and hang drum have carved their own place in the hearts of musicians all over the world. Whether you choose the handpan or the hang drum, it ultimately comes down to personal preference, playing style, and the unique soundscapes you wish to explore.

So, whether you’re drawn to the intricate steel tongue design of the handpan or the ethereal sustain of the hang drum, both instruments offer a captivating musical experience that transcends boundaries. Whichever path you choose, the journey of creating beautiful melodies with these captivating instruments will surely leave a lasting impression on both the performer and the audience.


What are the key differences between a handpan and a hang drum?

The handpan and hang drum are similar instruments, but there are a few important differences. The handpan is a term used for instruments made by various companies, while the hang drum specifically refers to instruments made by PANArt. Additionally, handpans are generally more widely available and have a lower price point compared to hang drums. Handpans also offer a greater potential for sonic variety due to ongoing innovation by different makers.

How are handpans and hang drums classified?

Both handpans and hang drums are classified as idiophones rather than drums. They produce sound through Helmholtz resonance, which is created by the resonance of air inside the instrument. Handpans and hang drums have different dimensions, weights, construction techniques, and materials, which contribute to their unique sound characteristics.

Are handpans easy to learn and maintain?

Handpans are generally considered easier to learn compared to other instruments, especially for beginners. However, like any instrument, it requires practice and dedication. When it comes to maintenance, handpans are prone to going out of tune over time due to factors like changes in temperature and humidity. It is recommended to tune a handpan regularly to maintain optimal sound quality.

How do handpans compare to other steel tongue instruments?

Handpans are a specific type of steel tongue instrument, characterized by their unique sound and construction. While there are other steel tongue instruments available, handpans have gained popularity due to their distinct sound and the efforts of the handpan community to protect their instrument from copyright infringement.

What is the Handpan Community United (HCU) Foundation?

The Handpan Community United (HCU) Foundation is an organization dedicated to protecting and supporting the handpan community. It addresses legal challenges and copyright issues faced by the community and works towards creating a supportive and inclusive environment for handpan players and makers.

What are the key considerations in the handpan vs hang drum debate?

The handpan vs hang drum debate primarily revolves around availability, price, technical qualities, and sonic variety. Handpans are more widely available and have a lower price point compared to hang drums. Handpans also offer greater potential for sonic variety due to ongoing innovation. However, hang drums have a unique sound and history, being invented by PANArt, and are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts.

What makes handpans and hang drums unique?

Handpans and hang drums are unique instruments that produce hypnotic and soothing sounds. They stand out from other musical instruments due to their distinctive construction, tuning, and the way they resonate. Handpans and hang drums create a sense of tranquility and can transport listeners to a meditative state.

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