The Timpani is one of the most important instruments in the percussion family. It is used in orchestras, various ensembles, bands, and even in popular music. Timpani is an Italian word (and plural – the singular is timpano) but in America it is always referred to as a Timpani, regardless of how many drums are being played; normally, you’ll never find a single timpani all alone, for two, three, or four are usually played together.
The Timpani is a large drum that can produce various pitches. The timpanist (a person who plays the timpani) is responsible for making sure the pitch is correct, and the pitch can be adjusted using various foot pedals. The drumhead is usually made of animal skin or plastic – although professional timpanists usually prefer animal skins for its high quality sounds.
There are special mallets designed solely for the Timpani. Timpani mallets are able to produce soft or loud tones on the timpani, depending on the power of each strike. In many pieces, the timpanist is required to perform crescendo drum rolls – no easy feat. The techniques used for playing the Timpani are numerous and require a great deal of dedication and practice.
Timpanists also have the daunting task of making sure every inch of their timpani drum heads are in pitch with each other. If the drum heads are inconsistent, as the performance wears on, the drum will become out of tune; because the Timpani are the only drums that can produce distinctive pitches, have inconsistencies would be unacceptable. Most Timpanists have perfect pitch, but tuning forks can also be used. As with the mallet techniques, developing perfect pitch takes lots of practice and ear training.
Muffling is also a distinct skill Timpanists must master – when musical scores were written years ago, the Timpani sound did not resonate as long as they do today. A good timpanist will be able to look at the music and determine how long each note should actually last. In addition, the timpanist must also be able to muffle the sound successfully, on time, without producing any sounds with their fingers to muffle the initial drum resonations. It’s very tricky but over time it becomes second nature. Sympathetic resonance (when one timpani softly vibrates and produces sound because another Timpani has been struck) is also an obstacle Timpanists must overcome – on the professional or higher learning level, sympathetic resonance is usually unacceptable.
Most percussionists know how to play the Timpani, with varying levels of success. If you are interested in percussion, you will inevitably become acquainted with the Timpani. If the Timpani really holds your interest, it would behoove you to find a Timpani-specific instructor that is considered an expert on the instrument. There are many highly qualified people to teach, so learning should not be a problem; however, owning a timpani is very expensive. Most people practice their timpani skills at music stores, universities, or with private instructors that own timpani.
The Timpani, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is a very difficult drum to master. Yet the payoff is worth it – whoever does ultimately rules orchestra – and the timpani sets the standard for the entire orchestra or band. The instrument is vital to all great works of music, and it is still used constantly in modern pieces. As an indispensable instrument, whoever learns to play it becomes very valuable.
Source by James J. Jones