How to Play Timpani Rolls on Low and High Notes

There are several factors that have to be kept in mind when trying to produce a nice timpani roll and one of the most important is that your roll speed needs to change if you are playing low notes or high notes.

The rule of thumb to follow is that rolls on higher notes and small drums need to be faster than rolls played on low notes and big drums.

Watch me demonstrate playing Timpani rolls on low and high notes in this video lesson:

High notes on a timpano (single drum) are made because the head tension is high and tight. The membrane of the skin doesn’t vibrate as long and so you need to play faster to keep the roll resonating.

Conversely, timpani that are tuned to low notes in their registers have loose heads and loose heads will vibrate more. Playing too fast on a loose head will disrupt the resonating of the head and playing too slow on a tight head will not make the drum resonate adequately.

In a normal set of timpani there are four drums with the largest drum having a head diameter of 32”. Its range will be from a low C up to an A or possibly a Bb. Your roll speed on the low C will be much slower than for the A because the head will be very loose for the C and very tight for the A.

The next largest drum in the set is usually a 29” drum with its range extending from an F to a D. Again, roll slower on the F than the D. The 26” drum is the next size smaller with the range going from Bb to F and on the smallest of the set of four the 23” drum’s range will be from C to A.

  • Remember to play your rolls faster when the skin tension is high
  • Remember to play your rolls slower when the skin tension is loose

It’s important to practice playing on all the drums and at various pitches so that you can learn to adapt your technique for each situation.

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