Which Handpan Scale Should I Choose | Tips And Examples - Cool Percussion (2023)

I know where you are in the process of choosing your handpan. You’ve heard a few, searched some videos and now you want to decide which scale to buy.

Which scale should I choose for my handpan? – The scale you choose will be a personal choice. The one that sounds best to your ear. The one that makes you feel good. No scale is better to have than another thanks to the way they are tuned. There are, however, some preferential scales depending on what mood you want to play.

In this article I am am going to go through each of the most popular scales you will find on the best handpans. You are going to come across D Minor a lot to start with but I encourage you to scroll through, make more discoveries and find the right handpan scale for you.

With each scale, I will add a video or sound file so you can hear them tangibly.

In-Depth – What is a Handpan Scale?

The scale in itself, whichever scale it happens to be is like a set of steps. A series of notes in consecutive order. Major and Minor scales are generally eight notes long. Hence the earliest and most popular hand pans being eight-note varieties.

The eight notes are laid out in ascending or descending order on the handpan, so you can play left to right up and down the scale.

The purpose of the scale is so that you can build melodies and harmonies in the construction of your tune or song.

Diatonic scale

The great thing about handpans is that they are generally built on a diatonic scale, which facilitates making great music without any musical knowledge. Or at least, it is easy to play a tune, without two notes sounding terrible next to each other.

Because handpans are simple to learn, play and create music with, advanced musical knowledge is not essential.

(Video) How to Buy a Handpan - Tips for Choosing a Quality Instrument

Rather than turn this article into an Encyclopedia paper, if you want to learn more about Diatonic scales and why they work so well with the handpan, I recommend either an extended music theory class or a read of this ‘basic’ explanation of the diatonic scale on Wikipedia.

Personally I wouldn’t bother with either. Whilst the knowledge is interesting, at this stage of your handpan playing career, it is not important.

Why you can learn to play handpan scales quickly

On almost all instruments the notes are played in an ascending or descending order note by note. On a handpan, you will find that the notes and tone fields are laid out quite differently, Ascending or descending alternately from left to right, up or down the handpan {depending on which way it is sitting in your lap or on a stand].

Because the notes allow you to intuitively find your way around, you will find it tricky, not impossible though, to find a bad note, before or after the next that you play.

I always advise that a handpan beginner is not a novice for very long on this basis. You can become a good handpan player in just 20 hours

The notes, therefore, are the easy part. In direct contrast to many other instruments, the position of the handpan, and the technique is arguably the harder part. Especially the latter.

Basic techniques in playing the handpan scale.

Now you are safe in the knowledge that with little to no musical theory knowledge you can pick up a handpan in whatever scale and play beautiful music, you’ll want to know what the catch is. Well, there may be two, but they are easy to overcome.

  • Technique
  • Rythym

Playing Technique on your handpan

So the hardest part is going to be how you strike the handpan. This is something you will gain a feel or over time and practice will allow you to understand what works best for you. Do not hit your handpan too hard. It is designed to play the notes with softer strokes on the outer. Aggressive playing will detune your handpan more quickly.

Rhythm on your handpan

It isn’t essential but can help in providing some balance to the tunes you will create on your handpan. You are not going to have to be John Bonham when it comes to keeping rhythm on your handpan. But it is going to help to structure your tunes. Especially if playing pretty quick notes.

(Video) Handpan comparison - 7 Scales Kate Stone and Rafael Sotomayor

Again, just basic practice on your own, or using a metronome to train yourself to keep a basic beat will help.

NOTICE: – Keep Your Gu Clear

The hole in the bottom of your handpan is called a “Gu”. This is where the sound created by striking the handpan escapes. This should be left open, or at the very worst on a soft blanket. If using a handpan stand this is easy to do, or if playing on your lap, ensure the Gu is central between your legs.

Which Handpan Scale is Best to Play with Other instruments?

Always a good question and the easy answer is to choose D Minor. Not only is it a versatile scale, but it is also a very popular scale.

Hang on. Isn’t C the most popular? Well yes, in music in general, C will be the favored Key but Handpan music is not following that standard and remains heavily influenced by the sound of the original PANArt Hang. The Integral Hang used a version of D Minor and thus many early handpan players, if not buying an Integral, were requesting their makers to produce a D minor scale for theirs.

Also, if you want to play with other handpan players, whilst many will play well, a couple on D minor will match perfectly

Which is the Most Popular Scale for Handpans

An expansion of above, due to the D Minor Integral Hang popularity, both for playing and listening, many people own and play handpans in D minor.

Just as you are discovering now, and if you do not read further through this article, D Minor is the first scale positively identified by most people looking for tangible scale knowledge for a handpan, and choose that one straight away.

Many of the oldest and most viewed videos on YouTube are therefore D minor tunes handpans and this in itself fuelled the desire for more.

Ok, let’s get away from D Minor and move on.

(Video) Scales & Tuning for Handpans explained!

You can choose a scale based on how you want Your Music to Sound.

A quick note on Minor and Major Scales – I am about to present releative feeling for major and minor scales as happy and Sad. Uplifting vs. thought-provoking – Be aware that this view is based on mainly Western culture, and the perception of Minor vs. Major scales elsewhere in the world can be quite different.

Major Scale Handpans

Major scales will provide you with a happy, uplifting feeling from the music. This is often the most desirable scale for a new handpan player. You want to make some happy music before experimenting with darker sounds and feels.

The video above demonstrates perfectly the D major scale with uplifting sounds. I really like the tune being played too!

Minor Scale Handpans

If you choose a Minor scale, you have the perfect handpan for melancholy. Perhaps you want to evoke thoughtfulness with your tunes. Perhaps you have some melancholy to share. A minor scale will more than cover you in this respect.

This has narrowed things down a bit, although there are other categories you can explore.

Hijaz and Tarnauyyn Scale Handpans

Often referred to as above, this is a harmonic minor scale or Phrygian. I’ll not go into the minute details of the source of these scales. indeed, I do not major in music, but these scales are awesome for building suspense and tension and can be hugely effective in handpan music. Especially when combined with other instruments, such as the violin. PANArt used the scale as have SPB and Saraz subsequently.

If you are looking to play with other handpan musicians, be sure someone can also accompany on a similar scale, as these are not going to mix comfortably universally.

(Video) Handpans and Scales - a rough orientation for beginners

Dorian Mode Handpan Scales

A very interesting scale just removed from a minor scale. This is perfect for meditative music. If you are looking to produce tunes for concentration and contemplation.

Difficult to explain thoroughly in words, this video from PantheonHalo will demonstrate far better than I can describe.

Best Scale for your first Handpan

Remember that you will be a novice for only a short while as I explain in my Guide to handpans for beginners.

There is no best scale, although I would tend to lean toward a major scale just for the happier and more enthusiastic sounds you will achieve.

The beauty of the handpan is the ease with which the notes play together. Yes, you can subscribe or pay for some lessons on how to play handpan, but to develop your own feel and style, I would suggest picking up your first and experimenting. It is virtually impossible unless tuned badly, to hit a duff note. Because of the way handpans are tunes to a single scale, each note works well with the others.

Just start playing and you’ll see what I mean.


How do I choose a scale for my handpan? ›

All handpan scales pretty much fall into one of three categories:
  1. MAJOR: Does it sound happy, joyful or peaceful?
  2. MINOR: Does it sound sad, melancholic or tragic?
  3. FLAVORFUL: Does it sound exotic or ethnic? (e.g. Asian or Middle-Eastern)
Jul 20, 2021

What is the most popular handpan scale? ›

The most popular handpan scale is the D minor handpan called D Kurd. These handpans commonly come in an 8+1 layout with the root note D at the center along with A-Bb-C-D-E-F-G-A notes on the tonefield. The scale has all the notes in the D minor scale and is pretty easy to play.

What is the best handpan scale to play with other instruments? ›

If you mainly want to play together with other people, a "D minor" Handpan is recommended. Classical scales are "Kurd", "Amara" or "Celtic Minor", "Mystic". This key is very popular and widespread in Western Europe, which makes it easy to play together.

How do I know which scale is right? ›

Weigh yourself while holding an object.

Then, check to see if the weight goes up by the exact amount that you are holding. If it does, then the scale is accurate. For example, if you step on the scale and it says 145, then it should go up to 150 when you step on again while holding a 5 pound dumbbell.

What scale do most musicians use? ›

Pentatonic (five-note) scales are used more widely than any other scale formation. In fact, Western art music is one of the few traditions in which pentatonic scales do not predominate.

What is the happiest sounding scale? ›

The Major Pentatonic is the Happiest scale.

Do handpans go out of tune? ›

Every handpan gets out of tune over time. As with any other instrument, this fact is not a reason to panic. With high-quality instruments, the tuning should last for several years with appropriate treatment and care.

What scale does Pink Floyd use? ›

Scales to play: However you view them, the chords are drawn from the parent scale of D major/B minor and so you can use any type of D major/B minor scale pattern for lead lines. You can also play the simpler five tone pentatonic scale, specifically, B minor pentatonic.

What scale should I use to solo? ›

Major Scale and Minor Scale

Similar to soloing over a key, you can use the major and minor scales to solo over chords. The major scale can be used over major chords, and the minor scale can be used over minor chords. Both scales, however are considered modes using the names, Ionian and Aeolian respectively.

What is the most common handpan tuning? ›

The most common scale

As already mentioned, about 70% of all handpans are tuned in D minor. Here we have the D Celtic Minor (also called D Amara) and the D Kurd Minor.

What is the lowest handpan scale? ›

The most common scales for a first instrument are:AmaRa (minor), Kurd (minor), Magic Voyage (minor), AnnaZiska (minor), Equinox (minor) and Pygmy (minor). The lowest center note (the ding) commonly found on these scales are: AmaRa: C # or D. Kurd: D.

What is a Kurd scale? ›

The “Kurd” or “Annaziska” scale is basically a natural minor scale. The base tone is in the middle (Ding), the side starts with the fifth grade of the scale and goes up more than an octave (depends on the number of notes). The player can find all the chords that can be built on the grades of the natural minor scale.

Are cheap handpans worth it? ›

Are there cheaper handpans? And are budget handpans worth it? The answer is YES. In my opinion, the Acolyte handpan made by Nirvana Handpan is currently among the best value for the price and it is available right here on this website.

Which scale is good for beginners? ›

Well the most common scale to learn first is the Minor Pentatonic Scale. That's the one that I recommend that you start with and it is included in my beginners course. Once you have that one down (and can use it) then you should explore the Major Scale.

Which scale is the most accurate? ›

Analyser scales tend to be the most accurate, offering a comprehensive breakdown of your body's composition – some on our list can take up to 17 different metrics.

What scale should I learn first? ›

Minor pentatonic scale

This is by far the most versatile scale out there and the one most people learn first. You can think of the minor pentatonic scale as the one that'll be your safety net for any kind of improvisation you need to perform at any given time.

How do you tell which scale is which? ›

A major scale always starts and ends on notes of the same letter name, one octave apart, and this starting and ending note determines the name of the scale. Therefore, Example 1 depicts a C major scale because its first and last note is a C.

How do you pick a key and scale? ›

Here are four tips that will help you determine the best key for your song.
  1. Find Your Vocal Range. Every singer has a vocal range of high and low notes they can comfortably sing. ...
  2. Knowing Your Vocal Sweet Spot/Power Note. ...
  3. Musical Timbre of Instruments and Singers. ...
  4. Instrument Playability and Ease of Performance.
Jan 22, 2020

What scale does Jimi Hendrix play? ›

Many guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton, all use the minor pentatonic scale in their guitar solos.

What scale is best for melodies? ›

There are two other scales that are very popular for writing melodies. The first is the Major Pentatonic scale, the second is the Minor Pentatonic scale. They both consist of five notes. These notes are a subset of the "full" Major or Minor scale respectively.

What scales does Eric Clapton play? ›

As mentioned, Clapton often alternates between minor and major pentatonic scales in his solos. FIGURES 7a and 7b illustrate two standard scale positions for G major pentatonic (G A B D E).

What is the saddest scale? ›

The minor scale is the pattern in western music typically associated with sad feelings. It includes three different variations called the natural minor scale (or Aeolian mode), the melodic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale.

What is the most beautiful scale? ›

The natural minor scale is one of the most beautiful scales in music. It sounds sad and melancholic so it can be used over a minor chord progression to create beautiful melodies and guitar solos.

What scales for what mood? ›

Six major scales and their emotions:
  • C MAJOR – innocently happy. ...
  • D FLAT MAJOR – grief, depressive. ...
  • D MAJOR – triumphant, victorious war-cries. ...
  • E FLAT MAJOR – cruel, hard, yet full of devotion. ...
  • E MAJOR – quarrelsome, boisterous, incomplete pleasure. ...
  • F MAJOR – furious, quick-tempered, passing regret.
Oct 10, 2020

How often do handpans need to be tuned? ›

All handpans will eventually go out of tune, just like a piano or a guitar, and need to be retuned. All Nirvana Handpans come with one FREE retune that I recommend customers use between 1-2 years from receiving their instrument.

How long do handpans last? ›

The most important quality feature of a Handpan is that the notes are well tuned and, if handled properly, the Handpan will not become out of tune for at least 2-3 years. In addition to the fundamental, each note has 2 other harmonics tuned to it, the fifth and octave. Thus, a tone field consists of 3 notes.

Are handpans healing? ›

Handpan music is believed to heal and energize the Chakras, the centers of Prana, the vital energy in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, helping to achieve spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

What scale did Stevie Ray Vaughan? ›


Stevie Ray Vaughan was a master of the minor pentatonic scale. It was his go-to scale and defined the sound of all of his lead playing.

What scale did Santana use? ›

Carlos Santana is a big user user of the Dorian mode. In this course, we will discuss firstly what the Dorian mode is, and then how to apply it to your lead playing in order to play like Santana! We also learn a couple of cool licks using the new scale shapes.

What scale are most rock songs? ›

G Minor Pentatonic

Pentatonic scales have 5 notes per octave (hence the name) and are arguably the most common among guitarists. The minor pentatonic is used heavily in blues and rock, with its shape being one of the easiest to learn.

Can you solo with pentatonic scale? ›

Whenever you solo over a major key, such as C major, you can solo with pentatonics from the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th notes of that key. For example, when soloing in C major, you can use the Dm, Em, and Am pentatonic scales. This is because these pentatonics scales line up with the 3 minor/m7 chords in a major key.

What scale is Bohemian Rhapsody solo? ›

Summary: Bohemian Rhapsody

The solo is based in the key of Eb major and uses a combination of the Eb major pentatonic scale, as well as the Eb major diatonic scale.

What is the hardest scale to learn? ›

This is somewhat more challenging to play. So, what is the most difficult scale to play? Once you know all your scales, they are about equal in difficulty. However, there is one scale that presents challenges no other scales have, and that is the C major scale!

What is the hardest instrument to play in tune? ›

Read on to find out more.
  • Bagpipes. ...
  • Accordion. ...
  • Oboe. ...
  • Harp. ...
  • Guitar. ...
  • Piano. Like the guitar, the piano doesn't really need an introduction. ...
  • Cello. The cello belongs to the same musical family as the violin. ...
  • Clarinet. As mentioned earlier, the clarinet is a woodwind instrument in the same musical family as the oboe.

How much does it cost to retune a handpan? ›

For standard handpan tuning on most instruments, the price is variable between $100-$150, depending on how far out of tune the instrument is. There are a number of handpans of which more work is required based on how it was built.

What surface should my scale be on? ›

Place your scale on a hard, even surface—no carpeting. A wobbly or tilted scale can result in an inaccurate reading. Stand still, with your weight distributed evenly on both feet. If you're using a body-fat scale, you should be barefoot.

What scale is integral handpan? ›

One of the most popular scale variations is called the “Integral” scale. It was first popularized by Panart on the Integral Hang® in 2007. It is a hexatonic variation of D Minor that omits the 4th scale degree. Panart considered it one of the most balanced variations possible on the Hang at the time.

Which scale is more accurate? ›

In general, digital bathroom scales are more accurate than mechanical ones. But for the most accurate reading, any bathroom scale must be set up correctly and used consistently.

When should you avoid scale? ›

The first thing you should know: Daily weigh-ins are not your friend.
4 Times You Should Avoid the Scale at All Costs
  1. The Day After a Hard Workout. ...
  2. The Day After a Long Flight. ...
  3. After Eating Sushi or Soup. ...
  4. The Week Before Your Period.
Dec 12, 2016

Can my scale be wrong on a different surface? ›

Placing weighing scales on soft surfaces, such as carpets or floor mats, may result in inaccurate readings. To get an accurate reading, place your weighing scale on a hard surface (for instance, a tiled bathroom floor).

Should you look at the scale? ›

Don't listen to the scale, and here's why: your muscle mass weights more that fat does (and it's denser). This means that when you weigh yourself (after a week of killing it at boot camp!) the scale may show that you've gained a few pounds. This doesn't mean you've gained a few pounds of fat.

How do you know if a handpan is good? ›

A good handpan is a handpan on which each note will have the same timbre, the same consistency, the same duration of sustain, the same stability and the same sound projection.

What is Kurd handpan scale? ›

Kurd or Annaziska

Along with the Aeolian scale is one of the most complete handpan scales. The name of the scale and its sound come from the Arabic music tradition, where scales, harmonic and rhythmic sequences are called Maqam. We can say that Maqam is synonym for the world scale in our contemporary western music.

Which scale is most widely used? ›

The most widely used is the Likert scale (1932).

Which is the best scale and why? ›

The kelvin scale is based on the absolute zero which means go negative unlike Celsius scale. That is why it is convenient for all scientific calculations.

Which scale is most accurate and why? ›

Analyser scales tend to be the most accurate, offering a comprehensive breakdown of your body's composition – some on our list can take up to 17 different metrics.

What is Egyptian scale? ›

The suspended pentatonic scale, also known as Egyptian scale is actually the second mode of the major pentatonic scale. The interval pattern is tonic (1) - Second (2) - Fourth (4) - Fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7). This scale is designed to be played over 7sus2 and 9sus2 chords.

What mode is the Persian scale? ›

ModeName of scaleDegrees
1Persian Scale4
2Ionian ♯2 ♯64
3Ultraphrygian 3♭4
4Todi Thaat♯4
3 more rows


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