Percussive Harmonic Instrument (P.H.I.) V2

Categories: Commercial Hardware Products

Submitted by:Brian Copeland

24 May 2023

Elevator Pitch

Percussive Harmonic Instrument (P.H.I.) V2

The Percussive Harmonic Instrument (P.H.I.) Version 2 is an exquisite, ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing digital incarnation of the Caribbean steelpan.

Product Description

Percussive Harmonic Instrument (P.H.I.) V2

The P.H.I. V2 is a digital electronic derivative of the Caribbean steelpan - a family of musical instruments typically fashioned from 55 gallon steel barrels, cut to appropriate lengths with tops that are shaped into domes that are heat treated and, depending on the desired musical range, partitioned to create from 3 to as many as 36 notes on a single playing surface. Notes are played with sticks (mallets). The P.H.I. playing surface is reminiscent of the soprano steelpan, the highest pitched and by far the most popular instrument in the steelpan family. However, the P.H.I. extends the musical range of the soprano pan to a full three octaves, with an octave of notes laid out on each of 3 concentric rings. Like its soprano steelpan predecessor, the notes on each ring are laid out in the well-established cycle of fifths sequence, with the C notes being placed closest to the pannist at the 6 'o' clock position. MIDI technology is used to drive the P.H.I. built-in synthesizer and to communicate with external MID equipment. The synthesizer tone bank includes some unique meticulously sampled tones in addition to the core 128 GM tones. Control of the instrument for tone selection, transposition etc., is effected through an Android touch screen device that communicates with the P.H.I. engine via MIDI. It is possible to Individually configure each ring. The P.H.I. provides a prosumer analog output as well as a MIDI output. As for the traditional steelpan, the P.H.I. is played with sticks (mallets) but unlike its predecessor, some pannists can and do use their fingers as well. The P.H.I. has been patented and trademarked in several countries.

How It's Innovative

The following background is highly relevant: Each member of the family of acoustic steelpans utilizes a number of individual drums depending on the musical range covered. The soprano pan has the highest tonal range and utilizes just one drum cut to no more than 8 inches in length and carrying anywhere from 29 to 36 notes. The 12-bass covers the lowest range and utilizes 12 full-length (36 inch) drums. The playing surface diameter is normally 23.5 inches. The arrangement of notes on playing surfaces vary; of significance to the P.H.I., however, is the fact that the note arrangements on most soprano pans follow the cycle of 5ths (or 4ths and 5ths as it is called in Trinidad and Tobago). The 12-note cycle is repeated on each of three concentric rings, with the lowest octave on the outer perimeter of the instrument, and sequentially higher octaves on the inner rings. As far as is known, the soprano pan is the only instrument to flaunt a physical arrangement of notes using the full circular 4ths and 5ths octave pattern as represented in music theory texts. This is a legacy that has been passed on to the P.H.I. Key Innovation The P.H.I. combines MIDI technology with the musical logic of the physical note layout of the soprano steelpan to create what is effectively an electronic steelpan synthesizer. This 1. Facilitates composition and performance on a synthesizer with a playing surface that features concentric rings of notes arranged in the cycle of fifths as opposed to, say, a chromatic layout. The cycle is an essential pillar in Western music theory and education. However, and as its use on the steelpan has shown, physical implementation of the 4ths and 5ths on an instrument greatly facilitates performance. For example, a musician can easily shift intervals by a fifth or a fourth by simply playing an adjacent note within a concentric ring of notes. Shifting by an octave interval is accomplished by playing a radially adjacent note on an adjacent concentric ring. Hand movements for chord progressions are easily executed and follow the same relative movement pattern around the circular playing surface even as the root note is changed. Further, experience shows that the learning curve from initiate to achieving an acceptable level of mastery is drastically reduced. This, no doubt, also comes from the percussive nature of the instrument. 2. Traditional pannists now have access to the entire musical range on a single instrument – 24-inches in diameter, 8 inches in depth - with the corresponding increase in portability. They also now have the ability to expand their horizons beyond the bounds of the single timbre provided by the traditional instrument – a virtual infinite range of timbres is now at their disposal – and unfettered access to the power of digital music performance and composition tools

See MIDI Innovation In Action

Most Inspiring Use Cases

The P.H.I. is much more powerful than its predecessor as it accommodates the entire musical range on a single instrument, thus instantly providing pannists with significantly increased portability and the ability to expand their horizons beyond the bounds of the single timbre provided by the traditional instrument. For the vast majority of non-pannists, P.H.I. has an instant and significant appeal through the 4ths and 5ths note layout and provides a medium that caters for the creation of harmonies using the natural percussive musical instinct of every human being. All of this makes for an instrument that can be well mastered in a relatively short period of time. Indeed, experience has shown the immense value of the P.H.I. in music education. For all users, the P.H.I. also packs a wealth of features. Key among them are exclusive legacy steelpan tones from steelpan tuners who are no longer with us, a bank of Caribbean percussion instruments (Trinipercs), presets for pannists to easily capture and access instrument settings combinations, controls to facilitate expression of non-percussive instruments such as violins, organs and strings, and, of course, a MIDI output to stream performance to the plethora of DAW and composition tools. As internationally renowned pannist Darren Sheppard says, “The P.H.I. gives me access to a wider range of tools for painting musical pictures.”

Expansion Plans

Model Expansion: A P.H.I. V3 has been contemplated for some time. It will include improved note sensors to enhance expressiveness in conjunction with a migration to MIDI 2.0. It will also feature significantly increased integration between the instrument core and its touchscreen display. Market Expansion: This will follow the test market analysis completion. We see the P.H.I. as a globally competitive music instrument. A well defined production and marketing strategy will guide its growth internationally.


The P.H.I. is covered by patents and trademarks granted in several countries (e.g. US8063296B2 Apparatus for percussive harmonic musical synthesis utilizing MIDI technology). Target market sectors have been identified. We are currently gearing for the production of a limited number of test market units for intended release by the start of the last quarter of 2023. Sales data will provide more detailed information on subsequent ramp-up strategy, including production levels.