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Composing and Arranging for the Steel Pan - Part I : Basics
An Overview of the Special Issues in Writing and Arranging for the Steel Pan By Richard A. Sharma

1.2. The Double Tenor and Double Second

The alto voices of the steel orchestra are provided by the double tenor and double second. They are termed ‘double’ on account of their consisting of two pans as distinguished from the single tenor pans.

These are reasonably standardised, but variations certainly do exist especially in the ranges of these instruments and this should be borne in mind by the composer/arranger. For example, the double tenor often extends a semitone or even a whole tone upwards above the typical range of the instrument, however, this is best ignored by the composer/arranger writing generically.

The double second is a mere semitone higher than the double tenor, yet in a score is typically placed below the double tenor. There is a sound reason for this. It is not so much the different roles that the instruments fulfil but rather the difference in their timbre. That of the double second is much ‘deeper’, mellower than that of the double tenor which is more crisp and sometimes described as euphoric. So while at first glance, the two parts might seem easily interchangeable, this does present a special problem in terms of the difference in sonority. However, sometimes this becomes unavoidable as some pansides may not use one or the other.

This difference in timbre is as much the result of the slightly different note layouts of the double tenor (see Fig. 6) and the double second (see Fig. 7), as it is to the difference in length of skirt. The former’s is typically 6 ins., while the latter’s comes in at typically 9 ins.

Double Tenor layout       Double Second layout
Fig.6 - double tenor pan layout                                  Fig.7 - double second pan layout

The range of the double tenor is typically F3 to B5, sometimes C6 (see Fig. 8), that of the double second F#3 to C#6, or C6 (see Fig. 9). It is always safest for the composer/arranger to restrict himself to the more conservative range.

Double Tenor range       Double Second range
Fig.8 - double tenor pan range                              Fig.9 - double second pan range

Most commonly, where an orchestra fields only one of the two instruments, it tends to be the double tenor that is omitted. As already mentioned, for the most part, it would be possible to switch the double tenor part to the double seconds, but the difference in timbre is great as likewise pointed out previously. Another possibility is for the double tenor part to be taken up by the quadrophonics, with somewhat less of a difference in timbre as the two higher pans of this four pan instrument are essentially an adaptation of the double tenor. The range is also identical for the two higher pans of the quadrophonic.

The double tenors’ normal function is melody an octave below the tenor, or counter melody. That of the double seconds can be either of these, as well as harmony.


© 2009 Richard A. Sharma / Rainlore's World of Music. All rights reserved.

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