A panist playing chords on steel drum can supply harmony within a combo setting, replacing a piano or guitar. Chords are also played in a steel band by the double second pans right back to the cello pans.
When playing chords, both hands are used to simultaneously strike at least two different notes. Some panists play up to three or four note chords by holding three or four steelpan mallets in much the same way that a vibraphonist would hold his/her mallets. For now, we will limit our discussion to playing chords with just two mallets. The same technique that was described to strike a single note should still be used when playing two-note chords.
Modes of playing chords
Chords can be played on the steelpan by rolling or by striking in a percussive manner. When rolling chords, the two notes are struck alternately in a fairly rapid manner somewhat like a tremolo. Rolling chords is the panist’s method of playing sustained chords. The notes can also be struck simultaneously in a comping fashion or using a specific rhythmic pattern to produce a strum. Various types of strumming patterns that are usually played on a steelpan can be viewed by clicking here. The first strumming pattern resembles that which a guitarist or keyboardist would use to play reggae music. The other patterns are used to play chords in a calypso style.
Choice of Notes
The notes that are used for playing chords on steel drum are notes from the chord of the moment. When playing chords from a chord progression, you should use proper voice leading. For example, when moving from C major in the root position (a chord played, from the root: C–E–G) to F in the second inversion, the note E will rise to F while the G rises to A. This technique provides smooth movement between consecutive notes and keeps common notes between the chords. In our example, the C is common to both the C and F chords.
You should experiment on your steelpan with different chord progressions. Or better still, you should trying playing the chords to simple songs.