4ths & 5ths

The 4ths & 5ths layout is really the only standardized layout in the entire steelband. The arrangement of notes is in the musical “Cycle of Fifths”. Pans usually start with the lowest note at Middle C (“C4”), although it is not uncommon to find pans that start at the D above middle C. The C note is usually placed directly in front of the player.

The popular story behind this layout is that the pan pioneer Tony Williams went into a music classroom in the early 1950’s and saw the classic Cycle of Fifths drawing on the wall, and said “I can make a pan like that!”. Up until that point, Lead or Tenor Pans had a more or less random distribution or layout of notes as each builder tried to stamp his mark on the fledgling art form.

The 4ths and 5ths pans has clear advantages from a tuning and playability standpoint over most other designs (there is an argument that can be made for the 3rds and 4ths pans having an edge), and has become the de facto standard Lead Pan Layout. It’s not uncommon for pan people to simply talk about a C Lead or a D Lead, and it is taken as read that the layout is in 4ths & 5ths

The early versions of these pans had essentially three rings of twelve notes. The grooves between the notes went in a straight continuous line from the rim of the pan to the center; and the grooves between octaves of each note went in a straight line around the pan, parallel to the rim. This yielded a groove pattern that looked like a spider’s web, and layout initially became known as the Spiderweb Pan.