Everything you need to know about the Handpan scale

(tuning, scale, handpan scales)

There are countless handpan scales. Adding to the multitude is the fact that some manufacturers give their own creative names to the scales, even though they are variants 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 the same D Minor (D Minor) scale.

How do I find the right scale for me?

To anticipate: about 70% of all handpans are tuned in D Minor. It sounds very familiar to our ears, not too high and not too low. We have designed a short questionnaire to introduce you to the topic.

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

What "mood" a handpan creates depends not only on the scale alone, but on a great 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", the other possibly as "hopeful".

Traditionally, certain scale types are often associated with emotions and are advertised as such by manufacturers. These designations should be used with caution, because sounds are perceived subjectively. Therefore: listen to different scales, play them and then decide for yourself.

Roughly, handpan scales can be summarized into three groups:

Minor / minor or variations

Variants are called e.g. Celtic Minor, Kurd Minor, Amara, Magic Voyage, Annaziska, Pygmy, Equinox.
They are often associated with emotions such as tragic, mystical, sad, dreamy or even hopeful, tender or sweet.

Major / Major or variations

Variants are called e.g. Sabye, Ashakiran or Aegean.
They are often associated 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 to our ears.

The most common scale

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

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.

D-Celtic Minor / D-Amara

d-celtic-minor-note-difference

For these scales, 8 (out of 9) grades are the same or differ by one grade. The D Celtic Minor has a high C, the D Kurd 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" for 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 (be careful: these two notes are dissonant in the Kurd).

D-Kurd Minor

d-kurd-minor-accords

Tools to find your desired scale

Try it out

The most beautiful way to find your handpan is to try many manufacturers, materials and scales. If you keep coming back to a handpan, then you have found it, or it has found you. We are always amazed that most people feel within a few seconds while trying out handpans in our showroom which sound appeals to them most: long or short resonance, low or high tones, happy or rather sad.

Youtube / Videos

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

Trying out on the piano

A good way to do this is to tape off the handpan notes of a scale on a piano or keyboard. So you have the possibility to listen to it in advance.

Notes on the 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's not getting any easier!

There are unfortunately different designations between German and English notes. All Handpan manufacturers known to us use English notes only (see table).

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

Matching Scales / Compatibility

Which scales harmonize with each other?

Only a few handpan scales are compatible with each other. Some notes harmonize, others are dissonant, sound incoherent to horrible. You will quickly notice this when you strike several notes at the same time on the piano (chord). Not every combination sounds coherent and round.

If you want to meet other handpan players, you should take into account that about 70% of all handpans are tuned in D minor.

Here you will find an overview of 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 contact us. We will be happy to advise you on the purchase of your next handpan!

Kombi

This table shows which of our handpan scales harmonize with each other. To do this, simply search for the desired scale in the left margin and see how compatible it is with other scales based on the colors (upper margin).

These two scales fit together very well.

These two scales are compatible with limitations.

These two scales do not harmonize.