The timpani drums are large kettle drums with the heads stretched over a large bowl, traditionally of copper and struck with mallets. They form part of the tympani section of the orchestra which is quite fitting. When you think of them used in an orchestra you should picture rolling thunder or the oncoming storm!
They are incredibly dramatic but limited in their versatility. Maybe not as glamorous as electronic drums, or considered as fun as the bongos, these drums are incredibly undervalued as they play a pivotal part in the orchestra.
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Short answer, no. Unlike acoustic drums, as a beginner, you won’t want to have a set of timpani drums lying around your house- they are impractical, loud and fantastically expensive. Any blog or post telling you the best timpani to buy as a beginner is leading you down the wrong path as they are neither cheap nor necessary when you first start. The school or institute you are learning at will have the timpani drums set up so you will just need something to practice on. As such we have reviewed the top timpani practice pads and the best timpani mallets.
Practicing is slightly different from other drums as they are not typically enlisted for melodies, soloing or the beat- with timpani it is just as important knowing when to play as how to play. That is not to say you won’t be called on for the above or an etude, but you will see how it is different to other drums in how it is enlisted.
Learning will involve studying lots of scores to be able to identify what the orchestra is doing. You will have to practice endurance, stick control and look to master all of the types of rolls. It is a very technique heavy instrument and takes hard work to produce a nice clean sound throughout the range of drums which is the main point of focus for the timpani.
The most important thing as a beginner is to get a couple of pairs of different mallets, that’s why below we have reviewed the set we think you should get. Below that we have looked at a timpani practice pad, which if you are looking to get into timpani then you should really consider buying.
There are countless makes and models and the general-purpose felt-covered ones are usually the first handed to a budding timpanist. There are a host of shaft materials the mallet can be made from and a lot of boutique options that you won’t want to start with. These mallets range from very soft to very hard however as a learner you will want to focus on the mid range. Ideally you would want 2 to 3 sets of mallets – a hard pair for playing a passage with articulation, a medium hard pair for general use and a soft pair to play smooth rolls and legato passages. The soft pair is not necessary now as it is for more advanced playing.
Our best advice is to try to play with as many mallets as you can at school before choosing which suits you. If you for some reason don’t have this opportunity and just need a pair of mallets to start you off with then we would recommend the following which we have split up into the best general pair and the best staccato pair which cover general playing and rhythmic articulation as we mentioned above.
Vic Firth are legendary stick makers and for good reason too. They make quality crafted sticks targeted to the player’s purpose as we discussed in our general drumstick article and with this pair of mallets they have again shown why. These are the perfect mallets for a beginner player. They are not concert level but they produce a wonderful tone and their balance, bounce and the reverb they create are fantastic. With them you will produce a big, deep sound but still be able to keep control of the rhythm. Their length is 14.5″ and 1.5″ diameter and they are the ideal pair for all-around playing. We have not reviewed any other pairs as we don’t feel it necessary with such an affordable yet quality pair of sticks like these available.
No surprises here, Vic Firth again have produced the perfect Staccato pair of timp mallets for a beginner (and just to clarify, no we are not being endorsed by Vic Firth!). Again, there is not much we can say against them. At 14.5″ length and 1.25″ diameter, these medium hard sticks are exactly what a fledgling timpanist needs for solid rhythmic articulation.
As we discuss above, it may be that you want something harder than the T3s in which case you can opt for the Ultra Staccatos, which are the T4s and will give you the clearest rhythmic projection of all the felt models, however we would advise you to start with the T3s and then as you advance if you want an ultra -staccato pair you can upgrade away from Vic Firth!
We have looked at practice pads for marching snare drums and acoustic sets, but timpani drums are a bit different, so it is only right that it has its own practice pad. Fortunately these do exist! So there is only one pad in the market that we feel resembles the response of an actual timpani drum in terms of recoil and tone consistency. Unlike an actual timpani drum it is small, quiet and will not set you back over $1000 and the pad is the Stubbs TPP2.
What can only be described as an esoteric requirement, this pad has filled a small gap in the market by simulating the response and head of a timpani drum beautifully. It is perfect for practicing at home as you won’t be able to use the drums at school all the time. It is also great for warming up. One of the most important areas in refining your stick control is working on the stick bounce and this pad allows you to do this with its realistic head. This pad is extremely well made and it is evidently durable and supremely portable. This is the perfect practice tool for any budding timpanist.