The steel drum instrument family is comprised of different instruments in different ranges. In the soprano range, there is a Lead pan (also called a Tenor pan). This is similar to a flute, trumpet, or soprano sax, with its lowest note at middle C and rising chromatically two and one half octaves. The Lead pan is the main melody voice of the steel pan orchestra.They are tuned in the cycle of fifths, which is a consistent arrangement of notes that places notes that are most consonant to each other next to each other. This makes chord and scale patterns the same for the player in all 12 keys.
Like an alto saxophone, the Double Second steel pan is also in the alto range.They are two and a half to three octaves chromatic and it takes two barrels to hold all of the notes of a Double Second.Each barrel of this steel pan is tuned to a whole tone scale. The six notes of each whole tone scale make up the twelve notes found in a chromatic scale.While still an effective melody instrument, the Double Second steel drum is more capable of playing harmony and chords than a Lead pan due to its lower notes.
In the baritone range, there are quite a few steel pan instruments called Cello steel pans, or Guitar steel pans. For the purpose of illustration, we will discuss the Triple Cello.This steel pan is in the baritone range and has the tonal characteristics associated with a trombone, baritone sax, or the cello string instrument. It’s warm, full sound is perfect for stating chords in rhythm.In steel pan music, this is also called “strumming.” Cello steel pans are also referred to as Guitar pans since the 6 string guitar is often strummed.Sometimes, a Cello pan will have a longer skirt length on the barrel than a Guitar pan, giving them a somewhat deeper tone.