Engine Room


Engine Room


Physical description

The engine room is comprised of a “core” set of instruments, including the brake iron (discarded car brake drums), shak-shak (shaker), scratcher (a metal guiro), toc-toc (claves), cowbell, and bottle and spoon. In addition, the contemporary steel band also includes drum set, congas, and occasional other instruments as part of the engine room. The brake iron is played with a metal rod to produce a high-pitched sound.

Historical background

The engine room has its origins in early tamboo bamboo groups, which would use the brake iron and bottle and spoon as their primary accompaniment. “Mussel Rat” of Gonzales Place tamboo bamboo band is credited with introducing the brake iron in the mid-1930s (Blake, 120). The early steel bands adopted this tradition since many musicians transferred to the steel band when the tamboo bamboo was outlawed from Carnival (Goddard, 38).


The engine room percussion are generally non-tuned, although most brake irons are arranged in sets of lower and higher-pitched instruments for musical effect. Congas are also tuned in a standard fourths or fifths tuning.


Trinidad and Tobago


Steel Pan Ensemble




20th century to present


Blake, F.I.R.  The Trinidad & Tobago Steel Pan: History and Evolution.  Port of Spain, Trinidad:  Published by author.

Goddard, George “Sonny.”  1991.  Forty Years in the Steelbands, 1939-1979.  Port of Spain, Karia Press.

Steumpfle, Stephen.  1995.  The Steelband Movement: The Forging of a National Art in Trinidad and Tobago.  Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Thomas, Jeffrey Todd. 1985.  A History of Pan and the Evolution of the Steel Band in Trinidad and Tobago.  M.A. Thesis.  Middletown, CT:  Wesleyan University.

Additional resources


Amelia Ingram (2004)



“Engine Room,” Wesleyan University Virtual Instrument Museum 2.0, accessed May 21, 2024, https://wesomeka.wesleyan.edu/vim2/items/show/39.