Kendra Sylvester
Friday, 22 July 2011 02:15

Pan in Education
Steel Orchestras of Trinidad and Tobago/Finland


As a steelpan resource, as a medium through which indigenous music and creativity are preserved, and as an avenue through which local talents/crafts can be practiced and/or showcased, this project is invaluable.

At the International School of Port of Spain (ISPS) there are students hailing from over forty (40) different nations. Since the project is geared towards the international market we believe that ISPS is an ideal forum in which to test this aspect of the project’s promotion.

The Situation

At ISPS there is however a change-over almost every other day. That is, we frequently obtain new students. Many ISPS students attend the school for a couple of months, a semester, a year… in other words, their time with us is on a short-term basis.

Because of this specialist subjects like music have a short-term approach/aspect to them. There is more practical work involved in the ISPS students’ music studies, since we try to get them on the instruments quickly – depending on contact time and grade level, some classes get less exposure in music theory.

In many music classes the Music Education Technology (M.E.T.) curriculum has been adopted. This is where the student learns music theory via the website

We are therefore always looking for new, simple, fast, inventive and effective ways of imparting theoretical knowledge on our students.

The Proposal

To use as a fore-runner to this double CD Pan in Education: Steel Orchestras of Trinidad and Tobago/Finland, there could be a CD where early users – the students – could have a more ‘hands-on’ interaction with the national instrument.

An Introduction to the Steel Orchestra

Each instrument in the steel orchestra can be laid out as shown below in Figure 1a. Using the mouse, students will be able to hear what each note sounds like when they press (click) on any note of the pan.

Next to the pan (Fig. 1a) could be a music stave (Fig. 1b) that would show the compressed note’s position on the stave. So, for instance, if the student compresses ‘B’ with the mouse cursor (Fig. 2a) it will appear on the stave (Fig. 2b)


In this way students would be introduced to basic music theory while learning the notes of each pan instrument in the steel orchestra.

The students can also be introduced to the different tunings used in Trinidad. For example, the tuning used by Phase II as opposed to that of All Stars. Each different tuning would therefore have its own layout.
For instance there is also the ‘C’ Tenor pan (Fig. 3a) where the lowest and biggest note is Middle ‘C’ rather than ‘D4’ (or low ‘D’) as used in the ‘D’ Tenor pan (Fig. 3b). Both are tenor pans but they have different tuning.


An Introduction to playing the steelpan

Instead of just hearing the music and seeing it happen via Finale 2002, the students can also see it happened on the pan itself via a steelpan layout.
Finale 2002 has not only allowed musicians to transcribe their compositions and/or arrangements, but has also allowed them to hear it and see it ‘in action’ so to speak.
Another feature utilised effectively in Pan in Education: Steel Orchestras of Trinidad and Tobago/Finland is providing the ability to hear each instrument in an arrangement individually.

To take it a step further, when a single melodic strand is played the related/associated pan’s notes would light up (red) on the layout. The tempo of this melody can be then slowed enabling the student to ‘shadow’ what is played on his/her own instrument.
Figure 4 shows one such example using, once again, the ‘D’ Tenor pan



The student is therefore able to learn an instrument from the steel orchestra as well as a melodic line from a steel orchestral arrangement by himself/herself.


Depending on how young the students are the repertoire difficulty would vary.

More simple arrangements of the same songs used in Pan in Education:Steel Orchestras of Trinidad and Tobago/Finland could be utilised.

Even though this does not really cover the ‘preservation of our local arrangements’ aspect of the Pan in Education project (the arrangements would be simplified versions in this case) we believe this is a necessary practice if we want to educate students of all ages.

We are assuming too that different composers would eventually be published via this project.


Depending on the age group being taught presentation would then need to be adjusted. For instance, for five year old students the tendency would be towards an exorbitant/more free-handed use of colour, as well as large-sized diagrams and layouts, maybe even an animated character or two thrown in.


We at ISPS provide education for students of all ages. Yes all ages. Even our teachers are still students as they strive to become better teachers and role models for their charges.

Therefore, in a world where we continuously strive to provide quality education – creating new and innovative ways of imparting knowledge – it is our pleasure to participate in this historic undertaking.