The Hang, also called a “hang drum” and created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer in Bern, Switzerland, is a Swiss musical instrument developed in 2000. The name of the instrument comes from the Bernese German word which means “hand”. It is built from two “half-shells” made from sheets of nitrided steel, which are fused together at the rim, creating a hollow space inside the instrument.

While using some of the same acoustic principles as the steelpan, with which it is sometimes confused, the Hang is built to work more like a Helmholtz resonator (a device built around the notion of air resonance in a cavity).

The birth of an instrument

Ever since 2001, when the first generation of hang instrument has become commercially available, there have been several more models which have seen various improvements. One of the main differences from one generation to another is the number of tone fields in the circle.

The first gen of hang drums which had either seven or eight tone fields, while most of the hand drums from the second generation had seven tone fields, but their notes where configured in different layouts.

As the years have passed, the instrument has also seen the development of the Integral Hang and the Free Integral Hand, each of which were created from different materials and featured different tuning methods.

Similar, but not the same

Steelpans and Hang drums are differentiated by several more aspects. Starting with the fact that the two are built from different materials and ending with the category in which they fall. The Hang is classified as a drum (membranophone), while a handpan is considered an idiophone.

Also, with the increase in popularity of the hand drum, an entire family of instruments based on its principles has appeared under the name of Handpans. This group consists of several instruments, some of which are: Caisa, BEIIs and Halo.

Ever since it first appeared, the term “handpan” has created a lot of controversy. This is mostly due to the fact that it refers to a family of instruments which are based on the Hang, while carrying the name of a completely different class of instruments.

Hang drums and the instruments which are considered handpans are not actually pans, contrary to what the term by which they are classified might suggest.

Old sounds from new instruments

Musically, the hang drum is quite complex in its design. The top of the instrument has several notes hammered into it, while the bottom is built so that it will create a single note when the instrument’s rim is struck.

The notes of the upper part are arranged in a cross pattern, from low to high. Also, each tone field has multiple overtones. The lower part of the instrument has a round opening which can be partially blocked with a hand or leg, in order to create different sounds.

A certain tone may also be created by striking the rim of the drum. Another technique which can be used when playing the instrument consists of simply sliding a hand across its surface.