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Studio Class 13

Timpani Basics

Dr. Jason Kihle, Associate Professor of Percussion

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Before You Play


  1. You must know if your timpani are regular or extended collar when ordering heads

  2. I would recommend Renaissance timpani heads

Questions to Answer

  1. Sitting or standing

  2. Type of grip

  3. Are the bottom pitches correct?

  4. Always check the range of the timpani: with the pedal down, make sure bottom pitch is correct

Ranges of drums (spring-balanced timpani)

  1. 32” D-A

  2. 29” F-C

  3. 26” Bb-F

  4. 23” D-A

  5. 20” F-C

Are the drums in tune with themselves?  (Is the head cleared?)

Tuning The Drums


Hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present.

Consciously recall pitch, sound or movement, without producing it physically.

Pitch recognition and vocalization

Pitch Recognition:  1. the ability to identify and recall the sound given from a pitch source such as a piano.  2.  pitch matching.

Vocalization:  to produce pitched sound with the voice

Proper singing technique requires that the singer be upright, in good posture and relaxed in the throat and solar plexus.

Acoustic Vocalization Exercises

  1. Sing a pitch that is played on the piano or other pitch source.

  2. Sing the pitch in the octave it is played.

  3. Vocalize the pitch an octave or two above a played pitch.

  4. Vocalize the pitch while listening to its lower octave.

  5. Practice focusing and centering a pitch by singing the pitch continuously, while listening to different chords that contain the pitch.

What We Hear On the Timpani

Any pitch on the timpani is rich in overtones.  We are concerned with the fundamental, 1st and 2nd overtones.  We are working to tune to the 1st overtone, however, the 2nd overtone sustains longer than the fundamental or 1st overtone.  That is why we must listen only to the front of the tone (for about 2 seconds), and then dampen and strike again.  Muting at the 3 o’clock positions helps to dampen the 2nd overtone.

Ideal Tuning Method

  1. Make sure the heel of the pedal is all the way down

  2. Use a tuning fork, listen to the pitch, audiate, sing the A and then up or down to the correct pitch, tap the drum and listen to the front of the note, then move the pedal to the correct pitch

  3. If students practice, they can improve their ear

  4. Mute at 3 o’clock for 2nd overtone dampening; this can help the student hear the pitch (from Alison Shaw, UW-Oshkosh)

  5. When they lean over into the drum, the pitch can change; this can also be stabilized with practice

  6. Consider having them practice a proper tuning technique, and they will get better at it, just like everything else they’ve practiced

Putting Pitches on Drums

  1. Put the pitch on the larger of two drums, or middle range of drum

  2. Tighter head: more definition, easier to get articulation

  3. Looser head: easier to roll on



  1. Whatever technique you use, the you must be more concerned with how mallet comes OUT of the head than with how it goes in

  2. This is one of the most challenging aspects of playing timpani

  3. Generally, less experienced players are much too “in” on their stroke; this makes the drums sound like tom-toms


  1. This will vary depending on the grip, mallet, and stroke type

  2. Generally, you make a different articulation with stroke type within the world of the mallet you’ve selected (i.e. no matter how staccato you try to stroke, you will never get a general mallet to sound like a staccato mallet)

  3. Soft passage doesn't mean you should necessarily use a soft mallet

Beating Spot

  1. Over pedal, between tension rods

  2. Amount you play in from each edge depends on the drum and primarily the sound you are getting from the drum

  3. Too close to the edge is too thin, too close to the middle begins to be too “thuddy”

Putting Pitches on Drums

  1. Put the pitch on the larger of two drums, or middle range of drum

  2. Tighter head: more definition, easier to get articulation

  3. Looser head: easier to roll on


  1. Sticks 5-6" apart

  2. Don't double stroke on timpani

  3. "Shift"- means to move hands to another drum at the same time, not a crossover

  4. If you have to double stroke: use your fingers to make the sticks bounce, stroke it, make the sound come out

  5. On a crossover, keep sticks low


Three Parts Of A Roll

  1. Attack: lift the sticks together

  2. Sustain: speed of roll is based on pitch

  3. Release: maintain speed of roll to end, then lift sticks off the drum

  4. Mallets 6" apart for a roll, if closer roll is too bright

Loud Playing

  1. Go to edge of felt

  2. Compensates for louder dynamics, not as much of felt is in contact with the head

  3. This definitely applies to rolls; it will give the roll a less “thuddy” sound

Timpani Muting

  1. Suede: pressed in a book

  2. Four different pieces of suede, one for each drum

  3. Mute dead center or off to the side, not directly across from you

  4. For more definition you can mute the head slightly more towards the edge


Vic Firth-Boston (1952-2001)

Fred Hinger-Philadelphia (principal percussion 1948-1951, principal timpanist 1951-1967; under Eugene Ormandy)

Saul Goodman-New York (timpanist from 1926-1972)

Cloyd Duff-Cleveland (1944-1983)

Roland Kohloff-New York (1984-2006)


Exercises, Etudes and Solos for the Timpani by Raynor Carroll

The Solo Timpanist by Vic Firth

Modern Method for Timpani by Saul Goodman

Fundamental Method for Timpani by Mitchell Peters

Fundamental Solos for Timpani by Mitchell Peters

The Working Timpanist’s Survival Guide by John Tafoya

Musical Studies for the Intermediate Timpanist by Garwood Whaley