Let’s face it. Everyone knows that timpani sound incredible! They have a wonderful sound that supports the ensemble both with rhythm and with pitch. But, if the timpanist doesn’t play their drums in the right spot on the head timpani don’t sound good at all.
If you play too near the center your drums will sound like tom toms or cardboard boxes and if you play too near the edge your timpani will sound thin and tinny.
So, where do you play?
The best spot or “The Playing Spot” as it is referred is about 3 inches in from the edge of the bowl and directly in front of the player. You need to play with both of your mallets in the same area to avoid sounding as if you were playing on two different drums.
Try this experiment to find the best playing spot on your timpani:
Find the middle of the head of the drum and smack it there. How does it sound? Pretty dull and thuddy, right?
Now, play very near the edge of the head and listen to how pingy or thin the tone is. It’s not thuddy like when you played in the middle of the head, but it is an undesirable sound to be sure.
Finally, play the drum with a nice stroke with a good flowing rebound about 3 inches from the edge. I say “about 3 inches” because with each size drum the distance will change. In fact, when playing on the smallest of timpani like the 23” drum your playing spot will be closer to 2 inches from the edge and your playing spot on the largest drum of 32” inches will be a little over 3 inches.
The rule is to use your ears.
If you are getting a nice full tone on the drum and you can hear the pitch clearly you’ve found the best playing spot on that drum. The more you practice will help you always play in the right spot.
Take a look at this video and I’ll show you what I’m talking about
One more important thing to remember when trying to figure out where to play on the Timpani:
- If you sit too close to the drum you will end up playing too close to the center
- If you sit too far away from the drum you will probably play on the edge
- Position your stool and the drums around you so that you can always play on a good playing spot on all of your drums