Musical Steel Drum Facts

Updated April 17, 2017

Despite being created only in the 20th century, steel drums can be heard all over, whether visiting the Caribbean or listening to the Talking Heads song "Uh-oh Love Comes to Town." Steel drums have a rich history and are used in a variety of settings.


The evolution of steel drums began on the islands of Trinidad with the development of Tamboo-Bamboos; bamboo sticks hit on the ground to make a sound. These were used in Carnival percussion groups. Crude metal drums appeared in the 1930s and the instrument evolved into its current form over the decades.


Steel drums are actually referred to as steelpans or pans. The pans are made from 55-gallon steel drum containers that store oil. Steel drums are not even really drums; they fall into the idiophone category of instruments as they vibrate without the use of a membrane.


Steel drums are a pitched instrument, possible of producing discernible notes. There are many different instruments in the pan family, the main being the lead-steel pan, also known as the tenor pan.


Steel drum players, known as pannists, utilise steel drums for a variety of musical styles, most popularly calypso. Steel drums are also used in Latin, jazz, pop and theatrical settings.

Fun Fact

Because of its prevalence and important musical heritage, the steel drum is the National Instrument of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, according to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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About the Author

James Gilmore has written professionally since 2005. Since then, he has written and proofread obituaries for "The Press & Sun-Bulletin" in Binghamton, N.Y., press releases for "Goals, Seminars and Consultants" and articles for Made Man and various other websites. He writes a good deal of music-related content and holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ithaca College.