Timpani Facts

Timpani Facts
The timpani are instruments of the percussion family that is also often referred to as the kettledrum. It was introduced to southern and western Europe in the 1200s and they spread north soon afterwards. These first timpani were pairs of kettledrums and remained use until the 1500s. The larger version of the timpani spread in popularity across Europe in the 1400s. Over the next few centuries variations emerged and the aristocracy used them along with trumpets as signaling instruments. When gunpowder was invented the kettledrum was not needed for signaling but remained as an instrument, used for festivals and in church music and it eventually made its way into orchestra music and modern music of today.
Interesting Timpani Facts:
The word 'timpani' is derived from the Latin word 'tympanum' which means 'a hand drum'.
The timpani is traditionally a sheet of copper, shaped into a bowl which serves as the instrument's resonator. A goat or calf skin is stretched over a ring called a counterhoop that is then attached to the copper bowl. The copper bowl is mounted on a stand but the bowl does not touch the stand as this would create a dampening of vibrations.
The calf skin covering the bowl is referred to as the vellum. The tension must be perfectly even and tuned during a performance as changes in humidity and temperature can result in undesirable changes in pitch.
Tuning a timpani is usually done by using a tuning pedal that adjusts the pull rings (which attaches the counterhoop to the bowl).
Mallets used for striking the timpani come in various sizes and weights, with a variety of coverings and lengths of handles. Specific mallets produce specific sounds.
There are five categories of mallets for the timpani including hard, medium hard, soft, flannel, and wood (popular in the Baroque era).
The handle of the mallet is often cork or wood and covered in felt.
Timpani types include the D kettledrum (bass kettledrum), G kettledrum (large kettledrum), C kettledrum (small kettledrum), F kettledrum (high kettledrum), A kettledrum (high kettledrum), and the B kettledrum.
Not all timpani are made with calf skin or goatskin heads. Today some are being made with heads made of plastic, which are more durable and less affected by temperature and humidity than animal skin. However many professional musicians prefer the animal skin heads because of its warmer tone.
There are two common methods to holding the timpani stick or mallet: the German grip and the French grip. The American grip combines the two.
The most common timpani sets have four drums in them but any more than five is considered to be non-standard.
A musician that plays the timpani, or kettledrum, is referred to as a timpanist.
There have been a few concertos written for this instrument including Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra by William Kraft in 1983, and Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra by Jonathan Haas, among several others.
The timpani has also been also used in rock and roll bands such as The Beatles, Queen, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

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