Our approach aims at building the teacher’s ability to instill a sense of excitement and creativity in students, so they become for life-long music makers.  There are four facets to this.

Peer-to-peer Education

Quite often in the steelband rehearsal room students assist each other by teaching and learning songs from one another.  Each one teach one. This is a unique aspect of the steelband classroom. Extensive research by Lucy Green, which inspired the pedagogical approach of Musical Futures, concludes that students who learn from and with their peers are more likely to create music as adults. We take this practice a step further, making it more explicit, when developing musicianship.

We encourage  students to assist each other – not just with repertoire but also scales, intervals and rhythms. Students are immediately more engaged and curious about concepts that are so often taught tediously and without reference to practical music making.

This approach makes students:

  • Sociable – Their learning and performances are collaborative, which is how pan was created.
  • Confident – They are accustomed to performing and experimenting in front of others.
  • Creative – Willing to experiment, undaunted by fears of being “wrong”, rather than the traditional “correct v. incorrect” approach.


Patterns based on Western musical theory are visible in the steelpan, although we often just dictate them to students, the same with scales and writing or performing rhythms. At PanGEA:

  • We guide students towards discovering the knowledge that is often intuitive even at elementary levels.
  • We ask students how certain ideas look and sound on their instrument and we discuss why.
  • Our students are more engaged when asked to “find” patterns on their instrument; they learn faster, and their retention is stronger. They discover musical theories through their own process before establishing any mnemonic devices or shortcuts.

Movement and Improvisation

Both improvisation and movement are uniquely tied to music of the African diaspora. Today, the process of creating and analysing music as it is being performed is essential to modern musicianship.

  • We engage the youngest students, including those at the most elementary levels, in critical listening and cognitive appreciation.
  • We guide students in  the practice of creating, sharing and developing confidence in their own ideas and imagination.
  • Through movement students can internalize the emotional pull of melodic ideas and rhythmic intricacies. Growing comfortable with this level of individual kinaesthetic expression is inherent to the groove-oriented music that makes up much of what students experience and perform today.
  • Students who are confident in creating music and expressing themselves have a strong sense of self-value within an ensemble and within society.

Relevant Criteria and Content

What is the core knowledge of a pannist?  In addition to being strong musicians, pannists must be culturally literate in the music of Trinidad and the history and culture of the steelband movement.

What are lavways? What makes up an engine room?  What are the different instruments in a steelband?  Why is steelband one word anyway? Ramajay? What is a bomb tune? Guitar vs. Upbeat Strum? What skills are needed to be a modern musician?

  • We prioritize music making, improvising and reading chord symbols over Western traditions of standard notation.
  • We teach the cultural traditions of the steelband movement to teach musical practices, e.g. using the “engine room” to teach syncopation.  Primarily, through these cultural elements students learn musical concepts that are present in most genres of popular music.

All of this is possible by changing the role of the instructor.  Steelbands progressed in Trinidad to the point where the arranger became the principal figure, similar to the role of a conductor and an orchestra or Duke Ellington and his group. This idea has seeped into the classroom and, in many cases, the ensemble has become a training ground for arrangers. As educators we must challenge this role, so that repertoire enhances sequential learning. That is, instead of an “instructor-dependency” model, we need a facilitator-model, in which the educator facilitates, encourages and guides the self-development of the group.