History of the Steel Drums

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Steel Drum Pan

Solid Hoop Steel Drum Pan

Ancient history says that when man started his quest for music, percussion instruments were the first to have been created. It is a basic human instinct to beat against solid objects in search of sounds, if possible rhythmic sounds, which provide some food for the soul. So when you next listen to the heart thumping and face melting drum beats of an international rock band, do remember that its origin lie in some innocent effort centuries ago.

Steel drums or steel pans as they called and the subsequent steel drum bands, have a similar history. There was some form of ‘drumming’ within African tribes since some centuries, which were part of rituals or merry making. However it has its origins and evolution in the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The industrial revolution had European nations taking a large number of slaves from Africa to these Caribbean islands, to work in their coffee plantations. It formally took shape during the turbulent times of World War II. The frustration of slavery, the constant oppression and struggle again the colonial rulers and the melancholy of being away from their land and culture gave rise to the invention of the steel pan, the only probable link of the slaves to their roots.

The steel drum helped minimize the aggravation of slavery and was also potent means of communication within the islands. It started with the humble instruments called the “Tamboo-Bamboos” that required bamboo sticks to be beaten onto the ground to produce sound or hit against a gin bottle with a spoon. Slowly this gave way to more sophisticated instruments that involved some rejected metal piece from an automobile. Tamboo-Bamboo bands had taken shape by the 1930s; proper steel drum bands had sprung into picture by the mid thirties and by the 1940s one could not miss in them in carnivals for the lower strata of the society.

Since these were also used as a communication device, the colonial rulers of the slaves had their reservations against the usage of these, for the fear of revolt or passing of secret information through beat patterns. Strict laws and in certain cases even bans were imposed against the steel drum bands and the beat of the steel pan. These measures actually accelerated the evolution of the steel pan, since a ban one instrument gave way to the invention of another.

Gradually some amount of “rhythmic science” also got infused within the creation of the further variations of the steel pan. Musicians found out that the steel drum changed pitch after they are beaten for some time. These drum were a bit rudimentary instruments, convex in shape, but the changes in pitch were dynamic and not intentional.

Later Anthony Williams came up with a structured arrangement of notes that became the standard for steel pan notes. After couple of failed researches and initiatives, “PANArt” in Sweden researched and successfully productized steel drums using the fine-grain sheet technology. Today electronic steel drums have also been developed and steel drum bands have come a long way. They however owe the first steps to the persistent African aborigines that were there in Trinidad more than half a century ago.


  1. colin2nice says:

    The Caribbean’s original instrument!

  2. Nicole says:

    Great read!! Still we communicate, dance to and Enjoy the Beautiful Instrument!!..Steel Drums/Steel Pan for Life.

  3. nandi says:


  4. Alli says:


  5. Cathy Guevarra Bishop says:

    Thank you for this very insightful history of the steel pan. I just love hearing this unique instrument from the Caribbean- the sound is very relaxing and reminds me of my trip to the Bahamas. My oldest son learned to play the steel pan at his high school. He is actually quite talented and can play most of them. He graduates this year and I will certainly miss hearing him play.

  6. Lauren says:

    Beautiful read! As a native of the Caribbean I have a natural love for this instrument.

    I reminisce on the days in high school when we would have been in the Pan Room during music class.

    I am elated that a friend of mine is helping to keep Pan Music alive.

    Thanks so much EA! Wonderful job!!!

  7. Magda says:

    Absolutely in love with the steel pan even after trying the piano, violin and guitar. Being behind double seconds produced a natural high…. love it

  8. Desiree says:

    One of the most amazing steel pan ever.. I enjoy every moment.. I recommend for any functions be it in the North or the Caribbean.. Thumbs up to you..

  9. Pearl says:


  10. Latoya says:

    Very informative. I enjoyed reading about the history of the steel pan.

  11. andy says:

    An amazing steel drummer, truly made our wedding day all the more special

  12. Bruschie says:

    Love the instrument, love the music. Love the move, definitely heading in the right direction. Have some fond memories of pan for lunch in BHS, you would know! Thanks for the history my friend.
    Yeah Ephraim, keep playing.

  13. Michelle says:

    Steel Pan Music: so refreshing, reverberating and soulful. You are a beautiful demonstration of talent and passion. May the sounds and the melodic rhythm of the steel pan live on. Continue to share this wonderful gift.

  14. Deborah D says:

    Remembering the sound of the steel pans at BHS an your passon for the music Ephraim. Play on my friend.

  15. Delmae says:

    You need to listen to Rythm-Trail Steel Band. They are outstanding and so amazing with their music!

  16. Kriz says:

    Steel Pan music very entertaining and relaxing i love it.

  17. Amanda says:

    Very informative and beautiful history, steel pans has always been the passion of the caribbean, i remember in BHS when we try learning it, amazing experience. I am extremely happy you are keeping it alive Ephraim.

  18. Nalumansi Bisnauth says:

    This is lovely Ephraim. Steal pan is an amazing and beautiful instrument. It’s very good you are keeping it alive.
    Keep it up my brother.

  19. Gillian Burton says:

    It is a naturtal human instinct even babies by mere instinct hit theie hands against objects to make sounds.

  20. Robert Arjoon says:

    Steel Drums are quickly becoming a unique medium of dispensing music at various functions like weddings, cocktails, parties, christenings etc. However, not everyone can play it or even study to do so; you have to love it and be inherently gifted. I have known Ephraim for over 22 years and put my integrity on the line by testifying he is extemely gifted in this field; indeed his passion for steel pan is always visibly manifested simply by watching and hearing him play. If music be the passion of love, then play on Ephraim, plan on!

  21. Nicole & Ryan Keane says:

    Almost a year ago, I hired Ephraim to play steel drums for our beautiful beach wedding in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. The one thing we knew we wanted was steel drums and Ephriam was fabulous. We can’t wait to hire him again 🙂

  22. ilismo says:

    Great info 🙂
    I grew up listening to and performing with steel pan music, I even met people who make them and have always been fascinated by this fantastic instrument! I love it!
    Thank you for keeping the Pan alive and for letting people know of its history
    God bless you and all the best

  23. Annesa says:

    The steel pan gives a unique Caribbean Twist to any event. Love this article.

  24. Lynyus's says:

    Real nice instrument real professional player behind it……sweet melody captivating music. What u see is what u get

  25. Damian says:

    Love the sound of the authentic Caribbean steel drum music. Rythm Trail really know how to bring that sound and feel.

    tiny wine, tiny wine…….

  26. Paul Cort says:

    This is useful information. Pan is a versatile instrument. I love it. I must add that Antiguans dispute the origin of the steel pan since they claim to have the oldest steel orchestra in the world.

  27. Nalumansi Bisnauth says:

    Music is wonderful, this kind of music is outstanding. Keeep it going Rythm Trail.

  28. Cherry says:

    I was born in this type of music. My daddy is the original steel pan maker. So I just love your music now that it is infused with other musical instruments, too sweet!!

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