six bass pan

Also:       bass pan      

Contextual Associations

The six bass pan is a gongchime idiophone belonging to the steel band, the indigenous orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago. Steel pans (or simply ‘pans’), including the six bass 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 six bass panis a sextet of aggregate gongs comprising 3 apexes each 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 three wedge-shaped bosses on the concave face of each pan are separated from each other by a shared contiguous rim and are more-or-less equal across their widest dimension, taking up almost the entirety of the playing surface. The entire length of the oil drum from which each pan is made constitutes the instrument's skirt, which conceals the underside of the playing surface and is closed at its bottom with a loosely attached disc. The pan’s playing surface is left unpolished and skirt exterior is enameled black. The aluminum pan sticks are lightweight and rubber-headed to protect against throwing the gongs out of tune during rapid attacks.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

To achieve a sufficiently versatile bass register pan, six full sized oil drums make up one collection of instruments known as the six bass. Three of these pans are suspended from a metal rack with plastic loops, hanging the playing surface horizontally at approximately waist height. Three others are suspended horizontally above shoulder height to eliminate the need of a player to turn mid-performance. A standing player holds a padded stick beater in either hand, often alternating attacks, as he or she strikes the instruments’ vertices. Tremolo and rapid arpeggiations are used in lieu of an actual sustain. The six base pan is classified as a background instrument in the steel band, reflecting its position in the performance arrangement of the ensemble and its musical role. The pitch range as distributed across the six pans: a fully chromatic scale from C1-F2 is available to the performer. Above a given pan's fundamental pitch is a note at the interval of a 4th or 5th, and another at an octave. The fundamental pitch of the six pans are: C1, C-sharp1, D1, D-sharp1, E1, and F1. Six bass pans provide a bass line and low register harmonic support, and are the most popular type of background pan.


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,

Montagu, Jeremy. "steel band." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 30, 2012,

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,


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 4 in. depth of face 28.5 in. height of skirt 10.5 x in. width of smallest boss 18.5 in. width of largest boss

Primary Materials



Desmond "Mappo" Richardson

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson