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A member of the percussion family, the word timpani actually is the plural version of timpani. Although rarely played as a single drum, the timpani is normally found in a set of anywhere from two to six drums each with different sizes to play different musical ranges. The modern timpani uses a spring loaded pedal to tighten and loosen a head over a resonating bowl made from either copper or fiberglass resulting in higher or lower pitches. The diameter of the drum is measured in inches, and can range from 20” to 32” and a common set of 4 timpani will have sizes of 32”, 29” 26” and 23” allowing for a nearly two-octave range across the four drums. The most common application for timpani is in a band or orchestral setting. Timpani will provide a percussive yet tonal bed or punch to many different types of classical symphonic or wind ensemble music.
Although a member of the percussion family of instruments, the timpani will normally be played by a dedicated member who might specialize in that instrument. Additionally, timpani can be commonly found in the pit percussion section of the contemporary marching band. Historically in the drum corps activity timpani and other percussion instruments had to be physically carried by a marching member and the timpani even tuned on the go with a hand crank. Eventually rules were changed to allow the ‘grounding’ of the percussion so the instrument could be played standing in place by the players. The resonating bowl of the timpani is normally made from spun or hand-hammered copper, although more cost effective instruments will now feature a fiberglass type material. Higher end orchestral models will have a unique pedal and tuning mechanism to accurately fine tune the sound and timbre. While more common school models will utilize the spring pedal mechanism for easy adjustment by the performer. The mallets used for timpani performance will normally be wrapped in some type of felt material ranging from very soft to more hard. Even wood headed timpani mallets are also available and produce a very percussion attack.