How To Play Steel Drums? A Complete Guide For The Beginners

Many people want to learn how to play drums because it is such a fascinating musical instrument. This post is going to outline some simple tips and tricks to help you in learning how to play steel drums.

Steelpans or steel drums available for sale are a great addition to any percussionist’s collection. They are not, however, a common instrument for a lot of people, so it can be hard to get your hands on them.

These drums, also called steel pans, are musical instruments that originated in Trinidad. Today, they are played by drummers and musicians around the world.

People used to make this instrument from oil drums during the 30s, but modern drums are made of steel.

If you are planning to become a pannist or start your own band, you must learn how to play this instrument.

This post will provide you with the simplest and most effective methods of playing steel pan drums. So, continue reading to learn how this instrument works and how to play it like a pro pannist.

Learn How to Play Steel Drums

learn how to play steel drums

Playing pan drums would be much easier if you set them at the right height. You must know how to set up the instrument perfectly when you want to learn how to play steel drums.

You must hang it around your waist height to reach it easily. Besides, your hands will be in a better position to play the drums easily.

Stay perfectly balanced when playing this instrument. Do not put most of your body weight on one foot otherwise, you may not be able to play drums for extended durations.

Do not stand too close or too far from the instrument. Ensure your elbows are slightly away and you can still hit all the notes conveniently.

Learning how to grip the pan mallet in the right position is also an important lesson. Different pannists apply different gripping techniques according to their convenience. You must choose a grip between the following mallet grips to play it like a pro:

  • Gripping pan mallet with a fist.
  • Index finger pressing grip.
  • Light grip to hold more than one-third of the mallet.
  • Three-finger grip.

These are some common grips used to hold pan mallets. Try one of these four grips while learning how to play steel pan drums. Better grip means improved performance and better control!

This type of drum can generate multiple notes. Let it vibrate freely if you want to produce the best notes out of it. The mallet should not contact the drum for extended periods otherwise it won’t vibrate properly. Consequently, you won’t get the best sound.

Do not hold the mallet too tight otherwise you won’t be able to produce impressive noise. Hold it a bit loose and keep the mallet contact time as short as possible. That’s how you can produce appealing notes without any trouble.

You should also learn the techniques applied by pros to play successive notes. Thus, you will quickly learn to play it and also create many original tunes to entertain the audience.

How to Play Small Steel Tongue Drum With Fingers

You do not need to have any prior experience or skill in playing any other musical instruments. It produces soothing, healing sounds and can be used for meditation, relaxation, and music therapy.

I am going to explain how to play this beautiful-sounding steel tongue drum with fingers.

If you’ve ever listened to steel drum music, then you know that it begins with a rhythmic twang reminiscent of something between a guitar and a piano.

Play 11 note steel tongue drum

The goal here is simply to introduce you to the 11 notes of your drum and show you the basic finger technique for playing them in order to help you get started practicing right away. Here is how you do it:

  • Play a note using your index finger of the left hand and thumb of the right hand
  • Play another note using your thumb of the left hand and index finger of the right hand.
  • You can also play a one-note using two fingers at the same time. For example, you can use your index finger and middle finger of your left hand or index finger and middle finger of your right hand to play one note. Now, you know that there are 9 notes that can be played.
  • For the 10th note, you can use only 1 finger (the thumb of your left hand)
  • For the 11th note, you can use only 1 finger (the thumb of your right hand)

Play 8 note steel tongue drum

A small steel tongue drum can be played with fingers or with rubber mallets. It has 8 notes, which are tuned in pentatonic scale (C4, D4, E4, G4, A4, C5, D5, E5). Okay, let’s do this:

  • The thumb is rested on the middle of the drum and will be used to play both notes.
  • The index finger is placed on the metal tongues that are close to us (the ones numbered 1, 3, 5, 7) and it is used to play notes with a higher pitch.
  • The middle finger is placed on the metal tongues that are further away from us (the ones numbered 2, 4, 6, 8) and it is used to play notes with a lower pitch.
  • The ring finger rests against the rim of the drum. It will be needed when playing complex patterns on the drum.
  • This leaves our little fingers available to move around freely without touching anything.

All the pro musicians prefer double-up strokes and flick strokes when playing these types of drums. You should also prefer these two strokes to produce impressive sounds every time you touch the drum.

A little practice and a great understanding of notes will make you a skilled pannist. Later, you can also learn how to play steel drums with your hand and fingers without any guidance. It will be quite easy to improvise and adopt new techniques.

How To Play Under The Sea On Steel Drum?

In this video below, you will learn how to play the melody from the song Under the Sea from the movie The Little Mermaid on your steel drum.

How To Play Happy Birthday On Steel Drums?

One of the most recognizable melodies in the world is Happy Birthday. While this song has been a part of pop culture for decades, many people still don’t know how to properly play it on steel drums.

But now all that’s changing. In the video below, we’re going to teach you how to play your favorite song on steel drums!

Answers To All The Questions We Have Been Asked Most Frequently

Is it hard to learn steel drums?

Steel drums are not hard to learn. It can be a difficult instrument for beginners to learn, but with time and practice, it can become easier to play.

How are notes arranged on a steel drum?

Notes are arranged in a circle around the perimeter of the top of the drum. Because of this, the player has to work their way all around the drum to play each note.

This is why players have sticks in both hands. Some drums can offer 8 tones notes and some can even offer up to 30 soprano-range notes.

Do steel drums need to be tuned?

The answer is yes, they do need to be tuned. But they’re not tuned like instruments that use strings and frets. You would change the tuning by adjusting the tension of the drums, which can be done by opening or closing holes in the drum.

How do you hold steel pan sticks?

You should always hold the sticks between your thumb and the joint of your index finger. Hold it loosely to move the sticks freely on different notes for better sound and better performance.

What is a tenor pan?

A tenor pan or Soprano pan is the highest-pitched drum in a Steelband. This pan normally carries the melody and only one person is required to play this amazing instrument.

What is a steelpan tuner?

A steelpan tuner is a skilled craftsman, who takes the newly built exotic drum and further refines it to tune it properly. A steelpan tuner’s job is quite important because his/her work results in a flawless instrument.

Can I play a steelpan by hand?

Yes, you can play this instrument with your fingers but it requires good practice and proper techniques.


You can play any song you want on this drum. It is a melodious instrument, which mostly reminds people about beautiful beaches.

Some of the most renowned musicians across the globe include this instrument in their band to produce memorable music for the audience.

You can learn how to play steel drums and join them as a pannist and make their music more melodious and entertaining for the audience.

2 thoughts on “How To Play Steel Drums? A Complete Guide For The Beginners”

    • You are correct. The steel drum, also known as the steelpan, was indeed invented in Trinidad and Tobago, not Thailand. It originated in the mid-20th century and has since become a significant part of Caribbean music and culture.


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