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Anatomy of an Instrument: The Hang

Laura  Barnes
Anatomy of an Instrument: The Hang

Here’s everything you could possibly need to know about the Hang, and the range of handpans that have spawned from this UFO-like percussive instrument.

What is the Hang?

The Hang (main image) is an idiophone instrument, meaning it creates sound by vibrating without the use of string or membranes.

Often referred to as a Hang Drum, inventors PANArt strongly discourage the use of the word ‘drum’, saying “Treating it as a drum and promoting the name Hang drum, for instance, has created a ripple effect of misinformation that leads to damaged instruments, physical injury, and mental and emotional turbulence.”
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Created in 2000, the popularity of the Hang, which is a registered trademark and property of PANArt, has spawned a group of musical instruments called handpans, which offer an alternative to the Hang.

How is it made?

The Hang is constructed out of two half-shells of deep drawn, nitrided steel sheets that are glued together at the rim. This leaves the inside hollow and creates the distinctive UFO shape.

The top half of the Hang is known as the ‘Ding’ and has a centre ‘note’ hammered into it. There are also between seven and eight ‘tone fields’ hammered around the Ding. The bottom is known as the ‘Gu’ and it is smooth with a hole in the centre, when the rim is struck it creates another tuned note.

Other handpan makers have revealed how they use different types of air hammers to dent and shape the steel to create their own versions of the instruments.

Bali Steel Pan Handpans

How do you play it and what does it sound like?

The Hang and handpans are typically played resting on the player’s lap.

Softly striking the hammered notes with fingers, hands or mallets causes a soft, unusual sound like something between a harp and a steel drum.

Notes are laid out in a cross pattern in the 'tone circle' from low to high so the player can ascend or descend the scale.

With the Hang in particular, typically there is a fundamental tone, an overtone tuned to an octave above that fundamental, and an additional overtone a fifth above that octave (twelfth/tritave). Overtones can be highlighted, muted, or extracted based on how and where the player strikes the tone field.

There’s a bunch of videos on YouTube of Hang and handpan players. Here are some of our favourites:

Is there an online community?

As well as following the YouTube channels above, there are also a few prominent Hang and handpan online communities. These include:

- Hang Fan features news and info about the Hang and Handpans. There’s an artist directory, a buyers guide and forums.

- Hang Drum For Sale, as you might guess, offers up information about where musicians can buy second-hand Hangs. It also details information price ranges, as well as alternative instruments such as Steel Tongue Drums.

- There’s even a Hang, Handpan and Steel Tongue Drum online magazine featuring a range of information on the instruments, from making Handpan shells and improvisation techniques to the latest posts on its forum pages.

Why should I stock them?

While retailers can’t actually stock the Hang – it is only available from PANArt directly – handpans are in production from a number of manufacturers (see ‘Who makes them?).

There are also plenty of other similar instruments such as steel tongue drums and steelpans that will catch the eye of fans of unusual percussive contraptions.

These types of instruments aren’t stocked in many places, so if you decide to take some on board, you won’t have much competition. With a little effort, it shouldn’t be too difficult to position yourself as the go-to store in your area for handpans. Of course there’s some risk with this, as these higher priced items probably won’t fly off the shelf every month, but if you’re looking for a niche, this is certainly one.

Hapi Drum Steel Tongue Drum

Who makes them?

Here are some notable manufacturers of these instruments:

The Hang:
PANart

Handpan:
Saraz
Metal Sounds
Bali Steel Pan
Pantheon Steel
ECS Steeldrums
Zen Handpans
TerraTonz

Steel Tongue Drums:
Hapi Drum
AM Drums
Kaizen

Tags: percussion , Anatomy of an Instrument , The Hang , hang drums , Handpans

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