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Everything you need to know about Handpan scales

There are countless handpan scales. Adding to the complexity, many manufacturers often give the scales their own creative names, even though they are variations of the same scale. For example, "D Amara", "D Celtic Minor", "D Minor", or "Daniel Waples Scale" (named after a player) basically denote variations of one and the same scale D Minor.

How do I find the right scale?

Around 60-70% of all handpans are tuned in D Minor (D minor). It sounds very familiar to our ears, is not too high and not too low. The first question you should ask yourself is:

Do you want to…

What scales are there and what "mood" do they create?

What "mood" a handpan creates depends not only on the scale alone, but on very many other factors, such as the pitch, the material, the room, and of course how the handpan is played. In general, sound impressions are highly subjective and vary from person to person or even from culture to culture. One person will describe the sound of a handpan or scale as "sad," another as "hopeful."

Traditionally, however, certain types of scales are often associated with emotions and are advertised as such by manufacturers. However, these designations should be taken with a grain of salt; nothing beats simply hearing a handpan or scale for yourself and letting it work its magic on you!

Roughly, the handpan scales can be summarized in three groups:

Minor or variations

(Variants are called e.g. Celtic Minor, Kurd Minor, Amara, Magic Voyage, Annaziska, Pygmy, Equinox) are often described with emotions like tragic, mystical, sad, dreamy or also hopeful, tender or lovely.

Major or variations

(Variants are called e.g. Sabye or Aegean) are often denoted with emotions like happy, positive or uplifting.

Other scale types or mixtures

Other scale types or mixtures of major and minor (e.g. Harmonic Minor, Hijaz or Ragadesh) often sound oriental or mystical to our ears.

The most common scale

Difference between D-Celtic Minor / D-Amara and D-Kurd Minor

As mentioned above, 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.

D-Celtic Minor / D-Amara

d-celtic-minor-note-difference

In both scales, 8 (of 9) notes are the same or differ only in one note. The D-Celtic Minor has a high C, the D-Kurd has a low note (Bb), the rest is the same. Nevertheless, both scales can be played very differently.

D-Kurd Minor

d-kurd-minor-note-difference

D-Celtic Minor / D-Amara

d-celtic-minor-mirror-notes

Due to the low note on the Kurd (Bb), some notes are arranged differently than on the D Celtic Minor. Three notes are "opposite" or "mirror image equal" in the scales.

D-Kurd Minor

d-kurd-minor-mirror-notes

D-Celtic Minor / D-Amara

d-celtic-minor-accords

This also shifts the chords from the "adjacent notes", i.e. two notes that are next to each other. If you play the first two notes of the D celitc minor together (A and C), this is the A and Bb of the Kurd (caution: these two notes are dissonant in the Kurd).

D-Kurd Minor

d-kurd-minor-accords

Tools how to find your desired scale

Try it out

The best way to find your handpan is to try out many manufacturers, materials and scales. If you keep coming back to one handpan, then you have found it, or it has found you. We are always amazed that most people feel within a few seconds of trying out a handpan which sound appeals to them the most: long or short resonance, low or high notes, happy or rather sad. The impressions from countless videos cannot be compared with the first impression when trying it out yourself.

Youtube / Videos

There are many videos on Youtube about the scales to get a good impression. But here is a bit of caution. You have discovered a video on Youtube that you like very much? Do you really like the scale or rather what the handpan player comes up with on the handpan? If you like a scale, always write down the name of the scale and the notes (if available). Watch videos of different players playing the scale.

Try the scales on a Keyboard or Piano

A good option is also to tape off the handpan notes of a scale on a piano or keyboard and see how the scale sounds.

Notes of a handpan

Each handpan is limited to a certain number of notes, not like a piano where all notes are arranged chromatically. The possible combinations of a piano from which, for example, 9 notes are "selected" also show the exponential possibilities of new scales for handpans. So it does not get easier!

Between German and English notes there are unfortunately different designations. All handpan manufacturers known to us use English notes only (see table).

So if you like a video on Youtube, it's best to always write down the name and the notes of the scale. There are usually no differences in the notes, except between the German and English spelling.

EnglischEnglishDeutschGerman
AA
A# / BbAis / B
BH
CC
C# / DbCis / Des
DD
D# / EbDis / Es
EE
FF
F# / GbFis / Ges
GG
G# / AbGis / As

Matching Scales

Which scales harmonize with each other?

Only very few handpans are compatible with each other. This is not only because of the frequency, but mainly because of the scale (scale or "scale" in English). Some notes fit well together, others sound together like music from a horror movie. You will quickly notice this if you play several notes at the same time on the piano (chord). Some of them fit, but most of them don't!

If you want to meet other handpan players, you should consider that about 60-70% of all handpans are tuned in D minor.

Here you can find an overview which scales from our store can be played together. If you have already bought a handpan and would like to know with which handpan from our handpan store it is compatible, please feel free to send us an email or give us a call. We will be happy to advise you on the purchase of your next Handpan!

Kombi

This table shows which of our Handpans can be combined with each other. Just pick the handpan you want on the left margin and see how well it matches the other handpans (top margin) based on the colors.

These two handpans go very well together, as all their tones harmonize with each other.

These two handpans can be played together with limitations. Most - but not all - of their tones fit together.

These two handpans are not playable together.