One of the staples for any general music classroom, regardless of level, is instruments: barred instruments, recorders, rhythm instruments, percussion instruments, piano or electronic keyboards, and of course, everyone’s favorite, the autoharp (yes, I know I am seriously dating myself!)
This hasn’t changed much over the past decade or so. Sure, some instruments have improved over that time – especially keyboards, percussion offerings, and who doesn’t love the electronic autoharp – but for the most part, the instruments available have remained more or less unchanged… until now!
Steel drums (or pans) in the music classroom used to be a luxury item available only to a few who managed to enroll in a special program, received a grant, or were the beneficiaries of a special initiative at a state, district or school program. With the price for a single steel pan starting at well over $1,500 and going all the way up to $10,000 or more, acquiring even a single drum for the classroom was out of reach for most, and being able to have a small set was simply a pipe dream. Fortunately, that time has passed, and affordable and durable steel pans built for classroom use are now available for as low as $160. A company called Panyard has developed a revolutionary manufacturing technique that allows the drum to be punched out with a press before it is fine-tuned with a hammer, which saves time and costs less, allowing them to be far more affordable for the classroom or for the individual who would just love to have a real steel pan in their instrument collection.
These new “made for the classroom” steel pans called Jumbie Jams come in both F major and G major, making them perfect for either melodic or harmonic work, and just like traditional Orff instruments they have the option to remove some notes. A magnetic strip kit is available which allows a teacher to effectively block notes from being played, changing the instrument from a major diatonic instrument to a pentatonic instrument. Any enterprising teacher could easily use this same concept to create their own magnetic blockers, quickly and easily blocking as many pitches as needed for a given song. This has the value of making these steel drums usable with just about any combination of instruments that you may have in the classroom. They are an excellent addition to drum or percussion songs or circles – adding a special timbre to the group and allowing for some melodic ideas. They are great for providing harmonies below recorders, and are perfect for adding complementary timbres and textures in an Orff setting – either as a harmonic or melodic instrument. In fact, any part in an Orff score can be easily duplicated or replaced with a steel pan. Of course, multiple steel drums can be used together to form a steel pan choir or orchestra. In addition to complementing your current curriculum, steel pans can actually help expand your multicultural offerings, allowing your students to authentically study and learn music of the Caribbean where steel drums originated.
Normally there is a rather steep learning curve to playing traditional steel pans because the arrangement of pitches on the face of each type of drum is not always the same. The “sweet spot” on the drum face is not easily recognized, and the pitch names and octave are not always clearly marked – not true with these new Jumbie Jam steel pans. Each pitch is clearly marked with a large capital letter, an oval indicates the area to be struck for that pitch, and the relative arrangement for the F major and G major tuned drums are the same. The mallets for the Jumbie Jam steel drums are also specially made to ensure that the drum stays in tune.
These steel pans are lightweight and easily transported. They come with the stand of your choice, mallets, and a user guide that describes instrument care, playing techniques and some beginner songs. Jumbie Jam steel drums also come in a number of configurations that allow for differences in each classroom and versatility in how you use them in your classroom setup. They come in a tabletop version – perfect for classrooms where students are seated on the floor or at desks – or with several varieties of stands. Other stands available are metal tripod stands and metal Z-stands, as well as plastic fun feet stands. The pans come in several colors: silver, blue, pink, purple, and chrome.
While there are numerous titles for solo and ensemble steel pans, there are also a number of books that work well with the Jumbie Jam steel drum. Some great ones to start with are:
Jumbie Jam Steel Pan Method – to develop correct playing skills
Jumbie Jam Caribbean Steel Pan Book – which includes exercise and basic techniques
Jumbie Jam Songs by Letter – filled with children’s favorite songs
Jumbie Jam Songs of Faith – featuring standards as well as spirituals
Jumbie Jam Trinidad’s Musical Journey – a wonderful addition to any curriculum, this is an introduction to the world of steel drums and percussion instruments as your students take a musical journey to Trinidad and Tobago. This resource includes a workbook, a play-along CD, and a conductor’s score that incorporates the steel drum with voice, Orff instruments, and auxiliary percussion.
To preview the sound of the Jumbie Jam steel pan, listen here.