The handpan is a relatively young instrument. Also, it was quite difficult to obtain for a long time. When the handpan finally entered the market, some people chose the tongue drum as an alternative, because it shares similarities with the handpan. This instrument was more available and also more affordable. Consequently, the tongue drum was seen as an instrument often compared to the handpan. Sometimes it has even been referred to as a mini-handpan, and although this is not entirely accurate, it is not unusual given how often they are used in the same context.
The tongue drum has a long history. Older versions were made from small propane tanks, as well as wood or bamboo. So, the tongue drum has been around much longer than the handpan. It never truly became a standalone instrument but was frequently part of percussionists' repertoire, who carried various instruments. The tongue drum goes by many names: steel tongue drum, tankdrum, slitdrum, and hankdrum.
The term "hankdrum" is essentially a play on words, originating from the growing popularity of the Hang® introduced in 2000 by the PANart company. As the tongue- or tankdrum became popular back then, some combined the names Hang® and tankdrum, resulting in "Hankdrum." Ultimately, the Hang® served as the base for the handpan.
While there are indeed similarities, such as the round shape, intuitive playability and a warm and resonant sound, there are also significant differences. A crucial distinction lies in the way they are played: a handpan is played with hands, using sticks is even discouraged due to its thin steel. By contrast, a tongue drum is played with sticks. You can play a tongue drum with your hands though, but the sound becomes somewhat "thin," and it requires more force to produce a sound.
Another difference is the method of production. Handpans are handcrafted, with each note field being individually hammered and connected to others. A tongue drum consists of separate elements called "tongues," which are built and tuned independently.
The quality of both instruments is incomparable. The most significant differences are lying in the sound quality, durability, creative potential and musical possibilities. These aspects are much more pronounced in the handpan. The handpan has a distinct character with a rich, profound sound, which is lacking in the tongue drum. This is why you can find numerous professional handpan players who dedicate their lives to playing and teaching the handpan, each with their unique playing style. Such depth does not exist in the world of tongue drum playing. There are no full-time tongue drum players, and therefore, no players who have developed their own identity and playing style with this instrument.
Reasons to choose a tongue drum
A tongue drum is a beautiful instrument and can be a perfect choice for your specific situation. The primary and best reason is, of course, the sound. If the sound of the tongue drum is what you're looking for, there's no need to look further. Another reason for your choice could be accessibility. Playing a tongue drum is incredibly easy. There are numerous versions for children available, even for toddlers. Whatever you play on it, it sounds pleasant. Additionally, the use of sticks makes playing easier, and provides you with an instrument that almost anyone can play beautifully from the start.
An added advantage is the price. The price of a tongue drum is usually less than €1,000. While we believe that money should not be the primary factor in your decision-making process, it's certainly a bonus if you choose the tongue drum for other reasons. Here you can find our wooden en steel tongue drums.
Reasons not to choose a tongue drum
The search for the right instrument is a highly personal and delicate process. Only you know best what your criteria are and what your feelings are telling you. However, during our years of experience in selling handpans, we've noticed certain patterns and mistakes that are made. To help you avoid them, here are some less valid reasons to buy a tongue drum.
One of the least good reasons is the price. Some people want a handpan, but choose a tongue drum because it's cheaper. These individuals almost always come back to us, eventually buying a handpan, as they realize that a tongue drum is not the same as a handpan. While there are certain similarities, there are also significant differences, and choosing a tongue drum when you want a handpan, highlights these distinctions.
Another reason to opt for a handpan is musical experience. If you used to enjoy playing instruments and are now leaning toward the handpan, a tongue drum may not fulfil your needs. As mentioned earlier, a tongue drum is more of an accompanying instrument, not for standalone use.
If you want a handpan but this isn’t financially feasible for you, consider reaching out to discuss options like our B-stock handpans, used handpans, or lower-priced handpans. We often have fantastic handpans available at very reasonable prices!
If the finance side is no issue, but you are still somewhat uncertain if the handpan is truly your instrument, then consider renting a handpan as an ideal option. We also offer lessons in combination with the rent of a handpan.
The popularity of the handpan is growing rapidly, and the target audience is becoming more diverse. We increasingly see children showing interest in the handpan. For them, a handpan can be a significant investment. Furthermore, the handpan is a relatively large instrument. Fortunately, there are smaller versions available now. For example, check out the Octopus E Celtic Minor Mini. These mini-handpans could be a solution.
If you are looking for a more affordable option, then a tongue drum might be the answer. It provides a lovely way to introduce your child to making music. Perhaps this can be a stepping stone to a handpan in the future!
For the past few years, the RAV-VAST or RAV drum, has been available. This instrument is of Russian origin. They now also make handpans, but they gained recognition through the RAV-VAST. Technically, it’s similar to a tongue drum, but it's a larger, more luxurious version. The RAV-VAST is also better playable by hand. While it doesn't have the same ease of play as a handpan, it offers similar possibilities.
Unlike a handpan, you can also play the RAV-VAST with sticks. The sound is distinct, fand can be placed somewhere between the sound of a handpan and a tongue drum. It has the percussive, dripping sound of a handpan with the resonance of a tongue drum. If you're curious about the sound of this instrument, check out a video of a RAV-VAST from our collection.