lead pan

Also:       tenor pan      soprano pan      

Title: Steel Bands of Trinidad & Tobago--To Be Continued; performer not identified. Label: Delos. Format: CD. Catalog#: DE 4011. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The lead pan is a gongchime idiophone belonging to the steel band, the indigenous orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago. Steel pans (or simply ‘pans’), including the lead pan, are the primary constituents of steel bands, which also typically include other traditional and ad-hoc rhythm instruments. For detailed information on the social uses and meanings of this instrument see the ‘Steel Band from Trinidad and Tobago’ ensemble page.


The lead pan is an aggregate gong comprising 29 apexes divided from a common surface fashioned from the bottom of a 55-gallon oil drum (also known as a pan) that has been sunken into a concave bowl. The 29 oval bosses on this concave face are separated from each other by a shared contiguous rim and arranged in three concentric circles. The gongs range in size from 2 inches to 6.5 inches across the widest active area. The bosses are laid out in perfect consonances, 5ths apart, due to significant harmonic implications—sympathetic vibration makes each gong resonate with the sounding its neighbors (listen to audio clip). The skirt extends 5.3 inches down the pan, exposing a small amount of the belly (underside of the playing surface). The pan playing surface and skirt are highly polished. The aluminum stick beaters are lightweight and rubber-headed (see detail image) to protect against throwing the gongs out of tune during rapid attacks.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The pan is suspended from a metal rack with thick plastic loops, hanging the playing surface horizontally at approximately waist height. A standing player holds a stick in either hand, often alternating attacks, as he or she strikes the instrument's vertices. Tremolo and rapid arpeggiations are used in lieu of an actual sustain. The lead pan is classified as a front-line instrument in the steel band, reflecting its position in the performance arrangement of the ensemble and its musical role. A full chromatic scale between D4 to F-sharp6 is available to the performer. The two outermost circles of the layout span an entire chromatic octave and the innermost circle contains F6, D6, E6, F-sharp6, and D-sharp6. Lead pans are the highest pitched instruments in the ensemble and usually play the melody in a f to fff dynamic range.


For a comprehensive overview of the history and evolution of this instrument, see the ‘Steel Band from Trinidad and Tobago’ ensemble page. 

Bibliographic Citations

Myers, Helen. "Trinidad and Tobago." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 30, 2012, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/44477

Montagu, Jeremy. "steel band." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 30, 2012, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t114/e6439

Rimmer, Joan. 1984. "Steel band [tinpanny]," NGDMI v.3: 448-449.

Sandiford, Simeon. 1987. Steel bands of Trinidad & Tobago. CD with liner notes. Delos International DE 4011.

Shannon Dudley. "Steel band." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 30, 2012, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/26590


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: Caribbean

Nation: Trinidad and Tobago

Formation: Afro-Caribbean

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.241.12 idiophone--percussion vessel gong with divided surface sounding different pitches

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - contoured with multiple bosses

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: separate resonating space shared by multiple sonorous objects - built into instrument

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick with padded ball end

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


23 in. diameter 8.5 in. depth of face 5.3 in. height of skirt 1.5 x 2 in. dimensions of smallest boss 5.8 x 6.5 in. dimensions of largest boss

Primary Materials



Desmond "Mappo" Richardson

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson