The origins of the Timpani
Types of timpani


The drum is tuned to the necessary pitch by tightening the tuning bolts by hand.



The pitch of the drum is changed by rotating a tuning handle. Since the handle must be rotated several times each time the player wants to change the pitch, this type of timpani is not suitable for music requiring instantaneous pitch changes or glissandos.


Pedal balancing spring-type:

This type of timpani is suitable for more advanced performance, including glissandos. As the tension of the pedal spring and head is balanced, the pitch can be maintained, even when the player releases their foot from the pedal.

Pedal balancing spring-type

Pedal lock-type:

Drumheads made of animal skin tend to drift in pitch with changes in temperature and humidity. The pedal lock-type timpani offers two kinds of locking mechanisms (a ratchet and a clutch) to stabilize the pitch, and the player uses a handle to fine-tune the pitch after stabilizing.

Pedal lock-type

There are two pedal systems used in pedal timpani, the locking system and the balanced action system.
The locking system is often used for orchestral performance. The player moves the pedal and then turns their ankle once the pitch changes, so that the pedal catches on the depression on the metal fitting to lock, much like changing the gears on an automobile. This ensures that the pedal stays locked even when playing at ff (fortissimo), which offers durability in terms of unwavering pitch. This system is appreciated by timpanists.

With heads made of animal skin, even if the tuning indicator reads "C", the actual note that sounds may be a little sharp. One example of this is when overhead lighting shines on the drum, making the head tension tighter. For this reason, handles and similar mechanisms are used for fine-tuning, so that the tension can be loosened slightly without having to move the pedal.

The advantage of balanced action systems, which are used in schools and brass bands, is that they are easy to operate. There is no need for locking, and the pitch can be changed quickly just by moving the pedal up and down. This makes it easy to handle modern music, which contains many key changes that often come in succession, without any problem.

Timpani with lock

Timpani with lock

Handle for fine-tuning

Handle for fine-tuning

Balanced action pedal-easy to operate

Balanced action pedal-easy to operate

Timpani from Europe, with Germany at its center, often feature kettles with an overall straight shape and an angular base. On the other hand, after the timpani was brought to the U.S., many were made with round-shaped, hemispherical kettles. Timpani used in Japan are mainly round-shaped as well, as the earlier timpani used there came from the United States.

Two types of kettles: European and American