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The Handpan is one of the most rich musical instruments when we look at a combination of melody and percussion, but, for a long time I've dreamed with the possibility of playing a handpan that could give me the freedom of expression, melodic wise, I always hoped for. As a guitar and piano player I missed the freedom of changing scales to play with different moods whenever I felt like it, and those juicy dissonant progressions often heard in jazz music always had a place in my heart. As I grew as a handpan maker the possibility of achieving such a instrument became clearer and clearer, and what was the best way to achieve it came with the knowledge of how the metal and it's sounds respond to different configurations and structural intricacies. Here I talk a little more in depth about the Dugimago chromatic set and its simplicities. 

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A Pair of one ?

Why use a pair of instruments to make a chromaticism and why not implement it in one single handpan? The answer can be as obvious as complex.


 I'll start by saying it is possible to achieve chromaticism in a single handpan and a well balanced sounding one, but there are some advantages to extrapolate into a pair model. For starters there is the obvious limitation of space when we think about a multi octave musical instrument. Depending on the number of notes we want to have in a chromaticism, space matters, and in this case two can strangely become more compact then one. It is not impossible to fit 40 notes into a handpan but the size of the handpan would have to increase. With this said, more important then space, sound clarity plays a big role in the decision to choose a pair over a single instrument. A handpan with a lote of membranes can create both spectacular resonances and disonances. But in truth the ability to control when to have more resonance or more dissonance in a given musical moment it's important and the ability to control this variations with purpose becomes more clear in a pair setup then in a single handpan setup specially due to the resonance chamber.

What's with that Layout?

The Dugimago Chromatic set layout is a very simple one with simplicity and playability in mind, it is inspired in a piano display with "white keys" on one side and "black keys" on the other, in other words, C major on one side and F# pentatonic major on the other side. Naturals on one side and sharps/flats on the other. This layout allows for an easy way to organize note positions on one's mind. In addition the full 3rd octave was placed on the bottom and the higher pitches on top, again this makes it easier to memorize notes placement and turn a complex instrument into its simpler version.

Set cromatico.jpg
One size to fit them all ?

 Both instruments are built in 53cm and usually there are some sound mechanics natural to the instrument design that need to be addressed, for example, the so talked about "Bb4 problem". Turns out this is fixable after the handpan is finished, and this knowledge allowed for a chromaticism build aiming at the cleanest sound possible. The "Bb4 problem" was often addressed as an "impedance", and this is a quite vague term that very often led to the misunderstanding of what could be causing the distorted sound of some notes in a given handpan size. After all, in simple terms, what's happening is a distortion of a given note related to a given size and is clearly created by the introduction of an air chamber, as prior to the gluing of both parts of a handpan, for example a Bb4 in a 53 cm shell, these "problematic" notes sound clean. If we address the problem as an overdrive/distortion problem then as a guitar player what I would do is either switch the effect pedal off or lower the volume of the amp. So how do we lower the volume of the note ? Without lowering the volume of the overall "amp" ? By transferring energy that's exciting the specific frequency into another medium. And this is the principle of Helmholtz resonators. This is why a water bottle works better or worse, it's not about the water bottle, per say, because this works even with different materials, it is more about in what frequency the bottle is "tuned in". In other words a water bottle works as a Helmholtz resonator. Why is this important ? Number one it means we can now use many different materials other then plastics to achieve the same result, number two, sound wise we are now able to solve a distortion problem without meaningfully impacting the volume of the other notes and be precise about it. 

Bb4 sound on 53cm F# pentatonic major

Is it possible to play each handpan by its own ?

Yes it is! Take a listen of each handpan being played by its own.

Dugimago C major 23

Dugimago F# pentatonic major 17

In conclusion

The Dugimago Chromatic set is a complex musical instrument turned simple, it has still a great learning curve to it, but it makes it possible to play complex melodies in an understandable configuration.


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