A typical set of timpani consists four drums of graduated sizes; 32”, 29”, 26”, 23”. These sizes of drums refer to a set of Yamaha balanced action drums and different manufacturers of timpani will have similar yet slightly different sizes. But, virtually all sets of four timpani consist of a large drum for low notes, two middle range drums and a small drum for high notes.
Watch this video for quick look at the ranges for a set of four Timpani
It’s important to know what each drum’s range is and it’s important to know which notes sound best on each drum. Because, while the 26” drum is capable of playing a Bb, it really doesn’t sound great. So if you have an option you should play that Bb on your 29” drum so it sounds better.
The Two Middle Drums 29” and 26”
In the majority of musical situations you will end up playing most of your timpani parts on these two drums. The range of the 29” drum can go from F up to D and the 26” drum can go from Bb to F#. With these pitches available you’ll be able to play most two drum timpani parts.
The Big 32
This drum is used for low notes and the range of the drum can go from a low C up to an A. If a composer has written for three drums it’s most likely that they’ve written for the two middle drums plus this big 32, so if you have the two middle drums and are looking to add to your set, but can only afford to buy one more drum you will be better off buying a 32”.
The High 23”Drum
This drum’s range goes from C up to A or Bb, but like all drums the middle of the range sounds best.
The best notes on each Drum
You don’t always have a choice but whenever possible try to play in the middle of each of your drum’s ranges.
- The 32” drum probably sounds the best of all the drums throughout its entire range, but E,F,F#,G,G# sound the best.
- The 29” drum sounds best on G to C
- The 26” can be tuned pretty low, but really doesn’t sound very resonant below a C and above the F
- The 23” drum sounds good on E,F, F#,G,G#,A, and maybe the high Bb, but shouldn’t be played lower than the E for the best sound quality