What is the Steelpan Instrument? Google Doodle celebrates musical instrument Steelpan

What is the Steelpan Instrument? Google Doodle celebrates musical instrument Steelpan

Steelpan, a metal percussion instrument developed and influenced by Trinbagonians, is the subject of today’s Doodle, which was drawn by artist Nicholas Huggins of Trinidad and Tobago. It was the sole new acoustic instrument to appear in the 1900s, though its roots are in the 1700s. Carnival and Canboulay, yearly harvest festivals in Trinidad, popularised it, and it is still heard in modern music today. The Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) debuted the steelpan and a new kind of music to the world on this day in 1951 at the Festival of Britain.


Colonialists in the 1700s brought enslaved Africans to Trinidad, and with them came their cultural traditions, including the use of rhythmic drumming. Between 1834 and 1838, when slavery was abolished, Trinidadians began participating in Carnival with their drums. Government officials, however, thought that the drumming could be used to spread messages that would incite revolt, and so they outlawed it in 1877. After this ban was enacted, musicians resorted to using tuned bamboo tubes pounded on the ground to create the same effect as drums. Tamboo Bamboo bands were the collective names for these musical groups.

In 1930, when rival Tamboo Bamboo bands caused trouble at carnivals and other street celebrations, authorities again banned them. When conventional percussion instruments failed to carry the energy of these bands, they turned to unconventional metal objects like vehicle parts, paint pots, dustbins, and biscuit tins, giving rise to the concept of the pan.

Musicians began experimenting with the unusual instrument during World War II to enhance its sound quality when Carnival was banned for security reasons. The amount, location, and shape of the dents hammered into the surface of these objects over time determined the tones produced. After WWII ended in 1948, the musicians began making use of the 55 gallon oil barrels that had been dumped by oil refineries. By experimenting with the drum’s length in addition to its surface, they were able to play full scales from bass to soprano. The contemporary pan evolved from this original design. Inventors and forefathers of the steelpan include Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams, and Bertie Marshall. A lot of the things they came up with are still in use now.

The steelpan has been designated as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and serves as a symbol of national pride and fortitude for the country’s hardy population. Today, you may hear steelpans played at the likes of Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and many more prestigious performance venues. The steelpan is a well-known instrument that evokes thoughts of the islands wherever it is played, be it the United Kingdom, Japan, Senegal, or the United States.

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