CW Steel Band On-Line

Given our current situation, no one really knows when we’ll be together again as a band, but I want to help you keep playing and developing your skills as a pan player and over-all musicianship.  Here are things you can do to keep your hands on the pan.  

Are you still a little sketchy on your letter names? Practice them here. 

Letter Name Review Sheet

Treble Clef Letter Name Quiz

Bass Clef Letter Name Quiz

If you’re going to get the most out of your time with the instrument, you need to set goals: short term and long term.  Create a practice timeframe.  I’ll practice anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours in one session. Generally, I use this structure in this order: 

1/4 of the time - Warm-Up (Practicing Scales, Developing Technique, etc.) 

1/2 of the time - Literature (Reading new music, Working problem spots, etc.)  

1/4 of the time  - Cool Down (Playing some of my favorite pieces just for fun.)

Here are things you can apply to your practice session.


You can find plenty of people teaching guitar and other instruments on-line that say you never have to practice scales.  You can take 'short-cuts' and get great results.  Just imitate what they do.  Well, I disagree.  If that’s how you learn to play, all you’re doing is just copying.  You don’t really know your instrument.  You’ve limited your technique so you’re not able to create anything on your own.   

Working on the scales can be one of the most beneficial things you can do in your warm-up, and it doesn’t have to be boring.  If you don’t know the scale notes in your key, Click Here.  Remember when you practice these scales, start the scale on each of the seven different letter names of that scale, each of the seven modes: Ionian (Major), Dorian, Phyrigian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aoelian (Pure Minor) and Locryian.  Another approach is to start the scale on the lowest note you can play that fits the scale and proceed up the scale to the highest note you can play and then back down.  If you find that you’ve gone through all the Key Siganture scales, try these Hybrid Scales.  They don’t follow any key and will use an assortment of accidentals. 

There are nearly an infinite way to practice scales to work on your knowledge of the layout of your pan.  If you play in traditional Band or sing in Choir, you know many of the different patterns we use for scale warm-ups.  This page is actually a famous Piano technique book, but we can use it on pan.  Hanon Piano Exercises.  It gives you kind of a short cut to a much longer scale pattern exercise.  Each pattern is shown in the key of C Major.  The first measure starts in the Bass Clef.  You begin that pattern on the first note of the scale, then move it up to the second note of the scale keeping the same step to or skip to a note pattern.  Continue this pattern idea up the instrument to the top end, then you play the second measure pattern to descend back down to your starting place.  Once you learn the pattern, where to skip notes, where to play the next one in the order, you can apply it to the other keys - Major and Minor.  

As you play, always be aware of your technique:  Are you using your hands in the most efficient  pattern?  Do you have a relaxed arm and wrist?  Are you holding the mallet with two fingers with your thumb opposite your first finger?  How’s the tone?  Have you found the ‘Sweet Spot?’ Are you adjusting the amount of ‘snap' for the size of the note?


I don’t know how much we’ll play as a band this school year, but we will be together again. You certainly can spend time working on songs in our folder.  Take a look at those spots where you know you just need a little private time to fix them.  Go on-line and find a tune that you always wanted to learn.  Just learn something new.


This is also a great time to practice Soloing.  I know, not everyone wants to be a Soloist.  That's fine, but doing some soloing, at home, in private, will help your over-all playing skills and your confidence as a musician.  It’s worth working on, even if you NEVER do it in public.  If you’ve never tried Soloing, check out the Basic Guide to Soloing 101. This guide will walk you through all you need to know to get started.  


If you’ve already had some experience Soloing with a Pentatonic scale, and you’re ready for the next step, here we go.  The old saying in Soloing is “There are no wrong notes, just awkward resolutions."  That just means - 'It’s not that note, it’s the next note that makes it work or not work.’   So let’s talk about that.  You have to first start with looking at the Chord Changes.  If they’re Diatonic, all in the Key Signature, then the Key Signature scale will work.  You may need to ask for help to find out if they are Diatonic.  To double-check which types of chords are in each key, Click Here.  If they’re not Diatonic, then you’re open to more note options.  There are two main approaches to deciding what notes to play: Chord Theory and Scale Theory.

Chord Theory says you focus on the notes in the chord of the moment. Of course some Music Theory knowledge is needed here.  ie. Cmj7 means lots of C-E-G-B.  Here’s a Chord Calculator to help spell the chords that will support your solo.  Just click the options listed to create the chord name and it will give you the correct Chord Tones.

Scale Theory is the next step.  Here you get to add the notes in-between the Chord Tones.  But what notes do you use?  That’s where you can go almost anywhere. If they’re short, try the Chromatic Notes to lead you to the Chord Tone. A lot of soloist like to shoot for those notes, but play a chromatic note, one 1/2 step away from the Chord Tone on your way to that Chord Tone.  The 1/2 step below is used most often.  For example, you’re headed to a G,  play an F# right be fore you get there. This is where practicing the Chromatic Scale is absolutely worth your time and effort.  

Longer notes can give you a few different options.  Of course, it can get pretty deep in Music Theory, but the easiest way to get started is to think about it is this: You can use ANY note of ANY scale that the key contains the Chord of the moment.  ie.  I have a Cmj7 in my song.  That chord is in both the key of C and the key of G.  It really doesn't matter what the key signature of the song says at that moment.  I’m just thinking a Cmj7.  Right now it’s a C Major or G Major Scale moment.  All of the notes in those two scales are the same except for letter F.  In C Major, it's F Natural.  In G Major, it’s F#.  

You can use either one in your Solo, but watch your resolution.  The F# will want to resolve up, the F Natural will want to resolve down, mostly.  Yes, there are always exceptions and yes, there can be a whole lot more to it, but that’s enough to get started.  To double-check which types of chords are in each key, Click Here.

Before you go too crazy and try to play a million notes in a row, don’t forget, you’re still thinking about shorter 4 - 5 - 6 note ideas to start.  1) Work with the same guidance as the Basic Guide to Soloing 101.    2) Allow your solo to have rests.  Quite often, the space betwen the notes is just as important as the notes themselves.  Music is a language.  You learn a new language in short sentences, not long Shakespearian speeches.  


Want a full band experience as you play?  Follow this link to a page with some new music and a few familiar tunes, all with complete backing tracks.

Cool Down

Whatever you want to play!  After all of the above, you desire it.

  CWPA Admin 2020