Instrumentation notes – Timpani

  • Best known definite pitched instrument
  • Variety of sizes and different methods of tuning:
    Crank – on side of drum that’s mechanically connected to two tension rods around the drum. As crank is turned, all rods tighten or loosen.
    Other has a crank or place to attach a tuning key – located on top of drum with tension rods connected via chain and gear mechanism. As key is turned, all tension rods turn.
    Pedal – common method. Operated by player’s right foot like an accelerator. Depressing it makes pitch go up, and opposite way brings pitch down.
  • Need to allow 6 seconds per drum to check tuning. The first or re-tune takes longer to check (15 seconds).
  • Head of drum made of plastic determines the tone quality.
  • Tone quality: very loose (low pitch): tone long, rumbling, attacks are dull and thump
    Very tight (high pitch): tone is hard and pingy.
  • Need to select drums which place the notes written that are in middle of the range for that drum to get best tone:
  • Extremes of ranges can be used but needs specific instruction to confirm the intention as generally used for special effects.
  • Drums are struck with timpani sticks but any mallet can be used.
  • Can muffle drum with cloth on the head.
  • Glissando very playable on timp with pedal tuning mechanisms.
  • Dynamics range pp to ff.

Blatter, A (1997). Instrumentation & Orchestration. 2nd ed. USA: Schirmer. Pgs 209-212


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