First Exercises and Maintenance
Now that you`ve chosen your handpan the adventure really begins. However, the first obstacles to be overcome are already around the corner. How do I store my handpan? How often should I play? What is the right maintenance? What are good exercises for beginners?
We will look at all these topics in the second part of our beginner’s guide. Together with Rafael Sotomayor, the manufacturer of the Opsilon handpans, we want to support you in learning and discovering your handpan. We will first dedicate ourselves on the practice and its regularity before taking a closer look at their storage as well as their care and answering a few general questions that come up very often.
About practice and regularity:
What are good exercises for beginner which can be practiced without any experience?
Rafael: We highly recommend every beginner to visit our workshop. At the beginning, it is of high importance that your right and left side do the exact same thing. More precisely, the movements of the right and left hands must be the same. It is also important that we use at least four fingers to play. That includes both thumbs as well as the index or middle finger, as well as improving and using even more fingers to play. This practice is very important because the use of multiple fingers brings more options in the future. We can, for example, play several notes at the same time. This means that you will be able to play chords or arpeggios. At the beginning it is best if the technique is learned correctly from scratch. Correcting is in fact much more complicated than learning it from scratch.
A simple exercise would be playing the instrument’s scale. We begin to play with the right at the bottom, alternating hands up to the highest note. The highest note is far away from your own body, while the lowest is nearby. With the Opsilon handpans, the highest note is always located below the “opsilon” writing on the handpan. This creates a logic that makes us literally go up the scale, or more precisely, makes us play it. With the note in the middle of the instrument (the “Ding”) we can practice rhythm, because we play it like a percussive instrument. Here we can drift away and just intuitively experiment in all directions. However, an (online) workshop is the ideal place to start properly.
Tip: If you are not sure yet, you should watch the workshop trailer on YouTube.
How many times a day or week should I practice?
Rafael: We recommend practicing every day! A minimum of 10-20 minutes is enough. Playing on your instrument can be a perfect escape from reality. Maybe you can think of it as some sort of meditation or musical therapy that does you good – some time for yourself and your handpan. That is why it’s so important that it happens every day and not just once a week. You can tell the difference and from experience results a significantly faster learning progress. Upper limits are nonexistent. You can also see it as a discipline you learn while having fun playing on your handpan every day. In other words, you can call it self-discipline – but in summary: 10-20 minutes every day is better than several hours a week.
Should I warm up my fingers before playing?
Rafael: We always start playing slowly and after that gradually increasing our pace. The playing itself is your warmup, so there is no need for special warm-up exercises. Deliberate and placed blows as well as the right movements of the arms also prepare us internally before we slowly increase the pace.
What are good songs for beginners to practice on?
Rafael: In general, songs are good for getting inspiration and maybe learning something from other musicians. For D-minor there are countless videos on the Internet in particular to get ideas or maybe try to copy the movements of the musicians and thus understand how a song can be built up or played. Good songs to begin with ideally have simple melodies and a bass alternation with right and left. However, I believe that it is better to play intuitively and to compose songs yourself. Playing a harmony and then try to develop it.
Tips: Use the question-answer method to start your first attempts composing yourself.
Rafael: The right side asks a question and the left side plays an answer to it. This is a nice exercise where you learn how to build melodic elements that you can use for a composition. Since the handpan is still a new instrument, the classics that you might have thought of just don’t exist yet.
Which instruments are harmonizing particularly well with the handpan?
Rafael: In my opinion, the best instruments are those that don’t have similar frequencies. For example, such instruments like the bass, cello or double bass. Percussive instruments are also good because you have a rhythmic partner while being able to play melodically yourself. Keyboards with deep pads are also suitable as partners. In general, you can combine any instrument with the handpan, but the sound should be clean and each of the instruments should be audible at the end. Guitars and harps are similar in frequency but can harmonize very well. Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste and everyone should take the combination that touches them, if they want to combine at all.
How long does it take until I can compose my own song?
Rafael: That’s a difficult question because there are people who compose a song straight away and then there are people who may never be able to compose their own song. That may be a matter of talent, but it may also be purely a matter of someone’s own head. Maybe you do not trust in yourself enough to just do it, or you might think that nobody would like to hear what you have composed. First and foremost, your composed song must please you and not anyone else. Here we can take up the subject of the question-answer game again. For example, you play two or three tones on the left side and ask a question you then answer on the right with both hands playing on three tones while varying up or down for example. Once you discovered the different corners of the instrument and try to play the different notes with both hands, you might get some ideas. In this way, intuitively played harmonies can arise. You hold onto what you like and then start building around that parts. That is how a song will slowly develop over time.
Care and protection:
How often should I clean my Opsilon?
Rafael: First and foremost, we should clean the instrument with a microfiber cloth every time we played on the handpan. The cleaning process is conducted dry which means that we don’t need TurtleCare, oil or anything of that sort. This is important because we sweat while playing and this way moisture, salts and acids are building up on the instrument. Based on our experience, we recommend TurtleCare as further protection. TurtleCare is not an oil, but a ceramic coating that we apply once every two to four weeks, depending on how often you play.
Why do you recommend TurtleCare?
Rafael: The material of the instrument absorbs moisture which means that it also absorbs oil. If the instrument is treated with oil, the oil will not stay on the surface but rather get absorbed by the surface. This means, what we want to protect is open, namely the surface. TurtleCare is different.
The ceramic coating remains on the surface acting like a second skin. Due to the hardness of the ceramic, the sound remains the same.
What is the best way to store my Opsilon?
Rafael: If the hardcase is not damp, you can leave the instrument in it for a day or two because the moisture can cause rust. Moisture absorbers can help if there is no other way. However, we do not recommend long-term storage in the hardcase. Stands, wall mounts, or shelves will work. In our experience, very few accidents happen on a wall mount, so you should be very safe with it. You must be especially careful with stands, because some of them are not so stable and it can happen that you don’t leave enough space when walking past it which might cause the stand to fall over with the instrument.
What do I do if my handpan rusts?
Rafael: The handpan can if you are not careful enough. Areas with high humidity or the extremely long storage of the instrument in its hard case can fasten up the process. Rust must be removed in any case, whether mechanically or with the use of chemicals. My experience has shown that polishing is the best option here. By using this method, the instrument loses some of its color and nitriding. The decision is difficult, but the best thing to do is to remove the rust completely. This requires gentle grinding and polishing work on the entire instrument and not just on one point. Unfortunately, this is necessary because otherwise the instrument would no longer be uniform, causing irritating color differences.
Tip: Make yourself a note in your calendar on which days you should treat your instruments with TurtleCare. This will help you not running the risk of forgetting it.
How do I know if my handpan is out of tune?
Rafael: An instrument is dramatically out of tune when you play it and it just doesn’t sound nice anymore. With standard tuning devices it is not so easy to find out whether the instrument is out of tune or not. The tuning devices also measure the other frequencies that always resonate when a note is played, including the overtones. It is best to listen carefully and hear for yourself. If the tone is far from what was actually played, it is out of tune. The tuning itself should be done by the original manufacturer of the respective handpan, as every manufacturer knows best on how his handpan is built and how it should sound. This is due to the different construction methods and the different materials. For example, we have special tuning devices that we use to tune. The different notes are displayed there, i.e. fifths, octaves and fundamental notes. An out of tune instrument not only shows a changed fundamental note, but also out of tune overtones. So, if you are dissatisfied with the sound, you should send it back to the manufacturer for repair.
Due to their sturdiness our Opsilon handpans come with a five-year tuning warranty.
Can I repair or adjust my handpan myself?
Rafael: We strongly advise against tuning the instrument by yourself or trying to repair it in any other way. Years of experience are required here, as it is not just a n out of tune note, but also always an out of tune overtone as well. Since the notes are crafted together and always tuned at the same time, a blow with the hammer always affects the other notes too. In this way, the manufacturer knows at which points he must hit the instrument so that the notes change in the appropriate direction.
Tip: We therefore advise against buying cheap handpans from China in any case, these are often out of tune from the start and a repair is difficult and expensive.
I want to play outdoors with my handpan, what should I watch out for?
Rafael: First, you should not play directly under the sun, so the instrument won’t heat up. Otherwise, this might change the sound, making it sound muffled by losing the overtones. If the instrument is built correctly, there is no permanent detuning, the change in sound is then only temporary. A structural change does not happen below around 180 degrees. Since you want to avoid these cases, the instrument should be played in the shade or in a cold place, so that the overtones will not be affected. In addition, if the instrument is exposed too heavily to direct sunlight it gets hot enough for the temperature to burn you. Moisture or wetness can also damage the instrument. That is why you should always make sure to keep it dry before putting it back into the hardcase for transport. Otherwise the moisture can settle in the hardcase’s textile.
We hope that we were able to help you with this post and that we could accompany you on your first steps on your way into the rich world of the handpan. Next time we want to look at the topic of “Traveling with the handpan”. If you have any suggestions or questions, please leave a comment! We are looking forward to seeing you next time, your Opsilon team!