Home Science in Art & CultureMusic How does a steelpan produce sound? Help researchers find out!

How does a steelpan produce sound? Help researchers find out!

by Eva Amsen

On the face of it, a steelpan doesn’t look that complicated: It’s an instrument made out of a single drum that produces sound by hitting different sections of it with drum sticks.

steelpan band

Steel band image: CC-BY-SA Christof46, via Wikimedia


But how can different parts of the same surface produce all those different notes? That’s a question that Joseph Garcia and Andrew Morrison of Joliet Junior College are trying to answer. They’ve recorded images of the resonance patterns that occur in the surface of the steeldrum when it produces certain notes. At 30,000 frames per second, this resulted in a lot of individual images, and they need YOUR help to go through them all!

On the Zooniverse website, you can help them annotate the images they recorded for this project. There are very clear instructions, and you can get started right away.

Here’s one of the images I just looked at. I drew those green circles around the two areas of interest, and then estimated/counted how many rings were in each region. One region was much easier to count than the other, but that’s no problem. It’s okay to guess if you can’t easily count the rings.

steelpan zooniverse


This is one of many projects currently live on the Zooniverse site. When you’re bored of staring at steelpan resonance patterns, you can also count giraffes,  record old weather data, or even help identify rescue regions after the recent hurricanes!



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