Updated: Feb 24
Ready for a new handpan but not sure which scale to pick? Here are 5 quick tips for finding the scale that’s right for you.
Tip #1: Watch lots of handpan videos!
Remember the first handpan video you ever saw? The one that you nearly broke the repeat button on because you watched it so many times. Well it might be a good idea to revisit that video (along with any of your other favorites) because there’s a good chance the handpan scale had a lot to do with why you liked it so much!
Here are a few of my personal favorite handpan videos:
Tip #2: Play handpan scales on a piano or other instrument
Enjoying the sound of a scale in a video is one thing, but actually making music with that scale is another. Take some time to sit down at a piano or other instrument and play through the notes of your contested handpan scales to get a feel for what it’s like to improvise with them. This can also be a good opportunity to try pairings of multiple scales played together.
Tip #3: Analyze your scale / chords
Put on your music theory cap because here you’ll need to do a bit of thinking. Before committing to a handpan scale it’s important to understand a bit about how it functions harmonically. All handpans belong to a parent key and each handpan scale has different pieces and patterns from this parent key which can greatly affect how it plays. Here are a couple things to consider:
Is the central note the “tonic” (resolution point) of its parent key?
Does the scale move stepwise or are there jumps between the notes?
What chords can you build with the notes in your scale?
How are the chords of the scale arranged on the handpan?
Not sure what the parent key of your handpan is? Use scales-chords.com to find out! Just enter your notes and voila! This generator will also spit out some complementary keys too!
Tip #4: Consider how you will use the scale
Deciding on your scale can be greatly influenced by what you want to use your handpan for. Do you already have a handpan or two? Then perhaps you want a scale that will fit seamlessly with your other instruments, or maybe you want something that will be completely different. Do you want to play solo or do you want to make music with friends with single key with instruments like native American style flutes, the harmonica, or play instruments that are particularly well fitted for certain keys like the guitar? These are all things worth considering so make sure you have a good vision of how you want to use your new handpan.
Tip #5: Play a few different scales in person
While this tip may not be a possibility for everyone, it is probably the single best way you decide on a new handpan scale. The best way to play some handpans? Get plugged in! There are more handpan players than ever before and handpan events are popping up all across the world so get out there are make some friends while getting to play plenty of new handpans! You just might discover that some scales you had written off your list entirely are your new favorites! (I know this has happened to me!)