The traditional styles of the Caribbean steel drums

Caribbean steel drum music undoubtedly differs from any other music in the world due to the evident fact that the instrument is used as the voice and lyrics. I personally enjoy the sounds of the steel drum because they are percussion based, and having experience with percussion instruments gives me a greater appreciation of it.

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The steel drum or steel pan originated from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago ( and was created by slaves during the French Revolution. After having African percussion music banned, they decided to gather oil drums, frying pans, and dustbin lids to play music. They are built with sheet metal having a 0.8mm and 1.5mm thickness. The pans were previously made from used oil drums, but are now manufactured from metals using various specifications. Using a pair of specified rubber tipped straight wooden sticks; the pan is struck at different positions to play varied musical notes.

The steel pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and the only instrument designed to follow the Pythagoras’ fourth and fifth musical cycle formula. Different instruments encompass the steel drum family, so if you had the idea that there was only one type, you were mistaken. There are fourteen types of steel pans and it started with a single pan. Nowadays, multiple steel drums are used to create a chromatic sound, and having each pan with fewer notes, affords the player a wide surface area for performance.

steeldrum2The steel drum performances in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands have over the years become a main attraction for residents and tourists alike. With the unique rhythm and beat resounding in the eardrums of its listeners, it is more than a memorable experience having heard the beats of the steel drum in the Caribbean. (Image credit: briankcrain photography)

The steel drum is coupled with other instruments to add cultural richness, and also the background music of some Carnival songs, played at the festivities for self-expression. While some bands are comprised of a guitar and bass player, a drummer and a steel drum player, other bands have more of a strong West African influence with bongos and Congo drums, but with these ranges of sounds brought to the forum, listeners are guaranteed a one of a kind cultural masterpiece.

The sounds from the instrument are great for dancing and ‘getting into the groove’ as the pannists, steel drum players, do not play at a fast speed, instead they engage their audience with a  mid-tempo musical beat and style.

steeldrum1Every form of music has its own claim to fame as each musical piece varies in style, tone, pitch and the instrument used. Steel drums are a soothing and enjoyable listen, and have made a significant contribution to the richness of culture. The steel pan engages its audience in mind, body and spirit, ensuring that they are well relaxed in all aspects when listening to the rhythm of the notes and swaying in the gust of the exquisite Caribbean culture. (image credit: )

By: Alexandra Daley 



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