29 January 2021 11:47

While listening to handpan/tongue drum music, it’s hard to clearly say whether these instruments are melodic or percussive. For one moment, it seems someone is playing the harp, and for another – a drum, and at the end, you can hear the sound of wind-chimes. RAV Pan and RAV Vast are called to be drums but are not actually drums in the truest and fullest sense of the word. RAV drums are instruments with a superb and tender voice and multiple ways to play. So what is the RAVs’ place in a family of percussion instruments?

Percussive instrument family


Percussive instruments have a beautiful and mysterious name but a very simple concept behind them. Percussive instruments are instruments that produce sound when it’s hit, scraped, or shaken. Although it seems to be very easy to play at first glance, playing the percussive instrument requires practice, training your sense of rhythm, and learning to hit the instrument with a certain amount of strength at the right time. Percussive instruments are the largest in the orchestra as they set up the rhythm of the whole melody, which other instruments should follow.

Unlike piano or violin, most percussions have only one tune (or have no defined pitch, like cymbals). However, some percussive instruments have various notes to play – like a xylophone. Percussive musicians are usually obliged to play a few instruments at a time.

Division of percussive instruments

Being the oldest form of manmade musical instrument, percussive instruments have a great number of sizes, shapes, sounds, and playing styles. Every percussive instrument falls down into one of the following categories: membranophones and idiophones. Membranophones make a sound when a musician strikes a membrane that is stretched over a frame, the membrane vibrates, and the instrument’s body enhances these vibrations working as a resonator. Membranophones include such instruments as bongos, tabla, or tambourine, for example.

In reverse, idiophones don’t have a membrane and produce the sound with the whole instrument’s body resonating for being struck. Idiophones include cajon, marimba, and steel drums, including handpan and steel tongue drum.

Where’s the place for the RAV Vast and RAV Pan?

From the point of view of classification, the RAV Vast and RAV Pan are both idiophones (means its body produces the sound itself without requiring strings, membranes, or external resonators) percussive instruments (means you need to hit it to create the sound). But unlike drums like djembe or darbuka, the RAV Vast and RAV Pan have a much greater variety of sounds they can produce.

The difference between the RAV Vast and the RAV Pan is that the Pan’s surface is solid. The sound is created by striking certain tuned areas of the instrument’s surface, which itself is a tensed membrane.  The RAV Vast’s surface is not solid as it has tongues curved on it. The sound is created by the tongues vibrating as a response to a strike.

Why are handpans so expensive? It’s because each of the handpan’s membrane is tuned manually with thousands and thousands of hammer strokes. How much does a handpan cost? The top shelf handpans can cost $4000-5000 and even more. The price is determined by the number of dimples and the scale complexity. Most handpan makers are individual crafters who create a very small number of instruments. If you want to buy a high-quality handpan, take a look at one of our RAV Pans that are twice more affordable. How much is a handpan here at RAV? You can find a professional instrument starting from $1690.  

How to play the RAV Vast and the RAV Pan?


The uniqueness of the RAV Vast and the RAV Pan is that they can be played as both percussive and melodic instruments all in one. Each of the RAV Vast tongues and the dimple of the RAV Pan is tuned with a particular note with up to 7 harmonious overtones tuned to it.

Playing the non-percussive instruments also requires following the rhythm, of course, however, it’s more about different chords, notes, and pitch ups and downs. Thus, you can think of the RAV Vast and the RAV Pan as playing the flute, piano or guitar or switching to playing it like cajon or djembe. This is the most astonishing uniqueness of the tongue drum/pan drum music – the variability and option to choose from two absolutely different playing styles that no other instrument provides.

Try it yourself! Involve percussive techniques when playing your RAV Vast or RAV Pan: scratching, slapping, and tapping the drum’s shoulders or even the rim. Then switch to play your RAV drum melodically, playing different chords, dyads, and triads. Find your best way to combine various techniques and play the instrument. If you want the RAV Vast to sound less percussively, use the RAV mallets. They will help to create a more sonorous and long-lasting sound reminding of a harp’s string.

Wondering where to buy a steel tongue drum from one of the best handpan makers? Check out the variety of drums available for sale in our online music store!

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