Isthmus Handpan Percussion Ensemble | Handpan Sheet Music (2023)

What if the handpan could be more than a solo instrument?

Introducing the Isthmus Handpan Percussion Ensemble.

Handpans are usually played as a solo or feature instrument, but they can be so much more.

Over the past few years, the Isthmus team decided to explore the handpan's potential as an ensemble instrument and its capacity for chamber music and collaborative music-making.

Our ensemble is made up of professional musicians who are passionate about handpans and want to see them reach their full potential.

Two years ago we recorded the Isthmus Improvisation Sessions. That project taught us a lot about how different instruments can complement each other and the handpan’s potential for collaborative music making. Yet by its nature, the music wasn’t easily reproduced and passed along for others to play.

As classically-trained musicians, we saw an opportunity to bring the handpan into the percussion field and chamber music ensembles, with scored music conducive to reproduction, collaboration, and performance.

The Isthmus Handpan Percussion Ensemble wrote, scored and recorded 4 original handpan compositions. Check them out below in our youtube video series: Isthmus Handpan Ensemble.

The handpan is a relatively new instrument; it is full of potential. While that is incredibly exciting, there are some challenges. Since the instruments are so new, the construction, shape, note choice, and sound are incredibly variable. In addition, there isn’t sheet music readily available for handpans. As a result they are rarely used in chamber music or other music ensembles.

We sought to change this. So we removed two of the biggest barriers any percussion group would encounter: access to sheet music and knowledge of scale compatibility.

Have you ever looked for handpan songs or music written for the handpan?

If you came up short, then you’re not alone. Music composed for the handpan is exceedingly rare.

We are trying to change that. When it comes to writing sheet music for handpan, we’ve been on the leading edge. In 2020, we wrote the first Handpan Method Book, published by Hal Leonard. The handpan book includes short handpan songs & etudes. Each is written in an easy-to-read tablature format that can be played on most handpans. The method book helps players of any skill level play solo music composed specifically for the handpan.

The Isthmus Percussion Ensemble takes composition and performance for the handpan to a whole new level. Each of the pieces performed by the ensemble is fully scored, and tablature can be made available for those who prefer that notation style.

We believe this music can benefit anyone interested in learning the handpan, but the pieces are specifically designed for school music programs and handpan musicians looking for the next step in their handpan journey. With our sheet music and tablature, school programs and musicians alike can take the dive knowing that there are resources available to keep them playing. We will even write new pieces specifically for your ensemble and we encourage you to do the same!

Our percussion quartet features a set of handpans designed to play together.

We wanted a set of instruments that would complement each other well and create a wide musical and emotional range. We selected one in the low range, two in the mid range, and one in the high range, which together make a complete G Major/E minor set.

The handpan scales we selected were the C Golden Gate, E Minor, E Kurd and G Oxalis. This set allows for full range of notes for compatible playing and composition. This also keeps the essence of handpan scale construction intact.

The Isthmus Handpan Percussion Ensemble defines a new space for the handpan in music performance and brings it more formally into the contemporary instrumental music world.

This project shows the handpan has a place in percussion groups, and with other chamber ensemble instruments.

Does this project inspire you? Are you working on handpan music compositions? Do you have a vision of pairing the handpan with other traditional instruments?

(Video) Growing Splendor I Isthmus Handpan Ensemble I Percussion Quartet I Isthmus Instruments

We are happy to share the sheet music for these first 4 songs. All songs are scored using traditional musical notation and tablature will be made available.

Whether you are an instructor, student or practitioner, we encourage you to reach out. Let's find new ways to use the handpan in your educational or therapeutic programs.

-The Isthmus Team

(Video) The First Handpan Percussion Ensemble I Isthmus Ensemble Project I Handpan Quartet

Meet the composers & read about their process below.

“The Space Between”

By Chris Watral

I wrote my piece for our handpan quartet and bass drum. I really enjoy percussion ensemble pieces that utilize the bass drum this way where you get the ‘punch’ of the bass and rim ‘click’. Setting the bass in the middle and placing the pans in opposite corners the four players are split in two groups that share bass drum parts. I wrote it like this because throughout the piece each pan has a lead section where they carry a melody. While they play their partner is still covering their bass drum part creating easy transitions from pan to bass drum for players.

My piece was influenced by Taiko drumming and soundtracks from some favorite animated series ‘Avatar’ and ‘Yasuke’. There is something about the ‘BOOM’ of the bass drum and the ‘click’ of the wood rim that draws me in as a listener. When it is used right you can create wonderful textures and emotions.

It starts with some traditional Taiko rhythms but quickly transitions into using modern or Western rhythmic patterns as you get further into the piece. I wanted this in the beginning to set the mood and to not play the pans right out of the gate.

(Video) Behind-the-Music I Growing Splendor I Isthmus Handpan Ensemble I Isthmus Instruments

From there we get into sections that feature one pan as the melody while other players are keeping the rhythm on the bass or providing harmony, sometimes both at the same time! It was a lot of fun to write a part and see if people could play the pan with one hand and bass with the other.

I felt I wrote more melody sections for the E minor and E Kurd pans because they kept providing them. I would noodle around and find a great theme on these pans then would build the sections around that theme. I did my best to try and balance the pan to bass drum playing in each part but the E pans have some of my favorite sections.

The open 3/4 section might be my favorite with the E Kurd carrying the melody. The other players have some awesome open chords and rhythms on the bass. This section definitely requires the group of players to act like a percussion quartet lining up the hits with breath and eye contact. It took a while to figure out how to get in and out of this section but I think it flows nicely.

The process of writing this piece was tough but a lot of fun. I rarely write music so it was a challenge for me to figure out how my piece was going to be structured. In the beginning I had all these great themes and I found my problem was ending them and transitions to other sections. In the end I am happy with how it all came together and can’t thank the team enough for bringing this to life. I hope this project helps bridge The Space Between this young instrument and the classic percussion ensemble.

~Chris Watral


By Robert Rockman

Duality explores the handpan in a middle eastern percussion setting. I wanted to put the handpan in a rhythmic environment where it still has a chance to thrive as the mystical, melodic instrument it is.

The first thing I did was pick an iqa’ or rhythmic pattern to base the piece around. The one I chose is called Jorjuna and it is in 5/4. It became the scaffolding for my piece and an integral part of my rhythmic decisions later on.

As the title alludes to, there is a certain duality or combination of worlds that takes place throughout the work. Starting with Jorjuna and a big frame drum sound, the beginning is established in this Middle Eastern drumming world. When the handpan enters for the first time, it is conforming to the rules of this world by trading solos and playing in this “odd” meter.

Throughout the piece, the more typical handpan sound bleeds in and permeates the texture. The time signature drops one 8th note (now in 9/8) for a more even three feel and the handpan takes over with a solo as every other part fades away.

The last section of the piece puts both side by side. There is a lovely floating solo in the G Oxalis which plays over the ever incessant Jorjuna rhythm. This gives way to a more rhythmic pattern of chords before spiraling up in the air on the last unison rhythmic measures.

Getting to put the handpan in a percussion ensemble setting has been challenging, fun, frustrating at times, but so rewarding! The boundaries of this instrument are only limited by our imaginations and it is my hope that through this project, there will be many more ensemble pieces created for the handpan in many different styles, with many different instruments.

(Video) Handpan Method Book

~ Robert Rockman

“Growing Splendor”

By Maxwell Edison

As a musician who is heavily influenced by improvised music, I saw writing this piece to be a new challenge for me. Growing Splendor, at its core, is focused around a choppy, yet lingering rhythmic pattern, adding layers to pull out unique harmonies, while also setting the stage to feature each player.

I found it fascinating to play around with unison rhythms while changing notes and chord structures between the quartet. And later in the piece, working with the main theme, but spread out across the group. Player 1(G Oxalis) takes the lead on this piece, holding down the foundation, while players 2(E minor 8) & 3( E Kurd) have more freedom to play above the rest. Lastly, Player 4(C Golden gate) pushes the music forward with a low melody throughout the main sections.

The name, Growing Splendor, came from one of our rehearsals, when I was inspired to introduce a contrasting section. Away from the conformity of the main theme, I wanted to pull out long chords, which this handpan set does exceedingly well, and this section ends on a wide growing C major chord, before the dash to the end.

Taking this piece from nothing to its first draft, and hearing the group work through it for the first time was absolutely blissful. This is the first piece of this caliber I’ve written and felt I have captured something significant. And the team was incredible in helping refine this piece to where it is today.

This piece is dedicated to my late grandmother, Dorothy Halwachs Johnson, who always supported me and my music. She always wanted to see handpan music brought into the classical music world, and to have traditional sheet music.

~ Maxwell Edison

“Mendota Sunset”

By Isthmus Team

Our first piece began from our first practice session. Starting off with its lofty melody, the other players began to fill in and play along, creating the layers of music heard throughout this piece. Out of these 4 pieces, Mendota Sunset is very characteristic of handpan music and paves a path between percussion ensemble literature and traditional handpan music. After that first rehearsal, the ideas poured out on how to modify and add things to make it the piece it is now.

The majority of this piece was inspired from that first practice session, and we as a team worked together to finalize the composition. This piece taught the team how to work as a group, and find new ways to explore the handpan set.

(Video) Isthmus Instruments - E SaByeD Handpan

I think the music speaks for itself about the potential of the instrument to be used more broadly in educational as well as recreational settings. Hope you enjoy :)

Special thanks to Hinckley Productions, Audio For the Arts & Perennial Yoga Studio in Madison for their help with this project.


1. Master Series Handpan - F Major
2. 7/8 Handpan pattern
(Matthias Meunier)
4. LUNA Sunset scale (D) A C D E F G A Handpan
5. How to Play Handpan (Hangdrum) - Lesson 1: Striking Technique
(David Urban)
6. Introducing Handpan scales & chords: D Minor Tuning "Kurd"
(Pan Lab Vienna)
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