From ArticleWorld

The pan is a pitched percussion instrument, tuned chromatically, made from a 55 gallon drum of the type that stores oil, and is the only percussion/non-electric acoustic instrument to be invented within the 20th century.


Origins and Controversy

There is controversy concerning the steel pan’s origins. Although it is reported that Winston Simon took an old biscuit tin, and beat it to form a steel pan, the history of the evolution and development of the steel pan is much more complex than that.

While Simon may have been the first to use biscuit tins, it quickly turned to ash cans and the steel drums made unintentionally available by the United States.

Africa to Caribbean

Large groups of young African men can be credited with contributing to the steel pan. Only having scraps as their primary resources they used what they had to preserve aspects of their culture in the Caribbean.

Clearly being influenced by the mixture of those on the islands along with the desire for African drums the steel pan was formed. The development of the pan took place largely during world war II, the first record of a pan band in the press being in a report of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in the Trinidad Guardian, in February 6, 1940.


Steel pans are constructed by pounding the top of the oil drum into a bowl-like shape, also known as "sinking" the drum. The drum is tempered over a fire until it is "white hot" and allowed to cool down.

Then the notes are laid out, shaped, grooved, and tuned with a variety of hammers and other various tools. The note's size corresponds to the pitch, hence, the larger the oval, the lower the tone.


Drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made, the "steel drum" is "correctly" called a steel pan as it falls into the "Idiophone" family of instruments, and is not regarded as a drum.