How to Master Playing the Steel Drum During the Lockdown

espite mass vaccination and lockdown softening, we are not ready to return to pre-pandemic life. Many of us spend more time at home than we’d like to. But why not master a musical instrument, for example? Steel drums for beginners are the perfect option: not too loud, not too expensive, and easy to bring outside when necessary.

Choosing the Right Steel Drum

That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. If you are a complete beginner in music, you need a simpler instrument. The key parameter is the number of tongues (and so of notes). But the more of them the drum has, the more advanced tunes you can play with it. For an adult beginner, we’d recommend a ten-tongue version; not too many, not too little, it’s the Goldilocks zone with the optimal complexity.

A steel tongue drum is a tuned instrument where you need to hit a tongue with your finger or with a stick to play a note (or press to silence it). This means each drum has its scale which sets the mood of your music. That’s another reason to contemplate on which music you want to play:

  • major scale, for optimistic, cheerful tunes
  • minor scale, for blue, sad melodies;
  • exotic scale, like Akebono or Hijaz, to make your music more meditative and Oriental.

This may later encourage you to purchase another one, with a different scale.

The weight and the size of the drum also matter. It’s the instrument you carry in a bag or simply in your hands and maybe hold on your lap when playing. You should feel comfortable with it to focus on your music. We’d recommend that you see the drum you want with your own eyes and try it with your fingers, try to carry it and place it right. If you are comfortable with this model, get it.

Learning to Play the Steel Drum

The bad news is that there is no common manual for steel drums, as they are different in size and number of tongues, and they are all differently tuned. The good news is that any decent steel drum by a respected vendor comes with a songbook. It contains popular songs and tunes you can learn and play, and then pick up more tunes when you want.

Does it require strong acoustic isolation? Indeed, no. Just close the door to your room, and chances are your sounds will not disturb anyone around, even if you live in an apartment. You can also listen to lessons on YouTube and repeat after the instructor. But if you want to mute the sounds, there are special mutes you can buy or make of fabric or an old car door trim. These mutes are also good for training.                                     

Last but not least: don’t give up immediately. You will fail to play your favorite tunes or repeat after the instructor, but don’t let these failures discourage you. It will be better to dedicate certain hours to learning; during the lockdown, affording it is easier. Then you will laugh about it, shining along with your steel drum at a drum session or at a party.

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