Yes! Both are different terms for a single instrument. It might be perplexing, but it is accepted in the world of steel drum band. The main reason could be the highly informal development of this instrument, which involved independent working of several people. This independent working resulted in very similar or same instruments, but with diverse names. The process of standardizing these drums is taking speed but a few inconsistencies are yet intact.

Of all names, the most popular one is pans or steel pans, which is in use in the academic and Caribbean groups. On the other hand, the term “steel tongue drum” is in use amongst the Americans.


Most of us do not recognize that a steel pan is indeed a whole orchestra containing different instruments. Five types of steel drums exist, which are as follows and in the order from highest to lowest sounding:

  • Tenor (Ping Pong): Is the most popular pan featuring one drum due to which it is easy to carry and transport. Mostly, soloists use them. As a starter, you only require investment in a case and a stand due to which it is also a more affordable type. Another selling point is its ability to play the melody line. Other instruments perform strumming (frequently playing one rhythm). Tenor pans are of two types differing in pitch range:
    • Low Tenor: Comes with C as the lowest note and has a pitch rate of C4 to E6. It is commonly used in the U.S.A.
    • High Tenor: Comes with D as the lowest note and has a pitch range of D4 to F#6. It can play both melody and harmonic tunes.
  • Double Tenor: Features two drums. These tenors are rare to find. They come with a layout due to which playing a melody line is very easy. The great thing about is that it can deliver melody or harmonic tune for counter or chords melodies. The pitch range is two octaves or from F3 to B5. As the notes are arranged asymmetrically, it is a bit harder to master it than others.
  • Double Second: Has two drums and is the most versatile instrument in this family. With it, you have the most notes for melody lines and lower notes are for syncing well with other musicians. You can play chords, leads, harmonic voices, or counter melodies. Melody lines are useful while playing in any band.
  • Guitar or Cello: Has three drums with the same note layout. While guitars typically dangle from the stands, cellos operate with the support of their legs. You may also come across something known as a 4-cello or double guitar, which play a role in smaller steelpan drums. In bigger bands, the guitar and cello have different parts to play. The guitar drum comes with two pans with a pitch range of C#3 to F#5 and is chiefly for strumming. It can offer both harmony and counter melodies. The sound is deep and mellow due to a longer skirt. On the other hand, the cello steel drum has three distinct pans with a pitch range of C3 to B4. It provides a deeper, gloomier tone. However, its best feature is that it can adapt pans’ arrangement and layout as per your style. Consider it for playing counter melodies and low harmonies.
  • Bass Tenor: Has six, full-sized, 55-gallon bulky steelpan drums and need a van for transportation. Due to this bulkiness, an electric bass is the choice of professional bands. Due to large notes on basses, just three fit on each drum! Further, you can adjust them to sit on the floor or stand on legs. It is rare for a pannist to use 7-, 9-, and 12-bass pan models. It is mandatory to have six or more bass steelpan drums, as only they come with three different notes.