Author Topic: Composing for Tympani  (Read 1902 times)

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whitebark

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Composing for Tympani
« on: October 22, 2017, 11:24:12 AM »
In classical era works, the tympani were tuned once before playing a work, and could only play one note.  Modern tympani can be re-tuned quickly with a pedal - but how quickly?  When composing a part for tympani, should one just write whatever notes come to mind, and let the tympani player figure it out how to play the part?  Or should parts be written mostly with each tympani head staying on one note, with plenty of time allowed for any needed re-tuning of the instrument?

Jay

Michel.R.E

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Re: Composing for Tympani
« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2017, 12:04:16 PM »
 a normal set of timpani has 4 kettles, and each one covers a specific range of notes. So you can't just "write the notes you need" but do need to take into consideration that there is a BIT of overlap between kettles but not a huge amount of leeway.

from largest (lowest) to smallest:
D - A (starting on the D below the staff)
F - C
Bb - F
D - A
(there are smaller drums that can be added going up, but they are rarer)

so as you see, each drum more or less covers a fifth, and there is an overlap of a minor third in most cases.

tuning CAN be relatively quick, but it is always best to leave enough time to get the RIGHT tuning. leave at least a measure in a moderate tempo, two if it's a rapid tempo.

note: there is an interesting effect, an illusion if you will, where if your other bass instruments are playing one note, your timps can actually play the "wrong" note and the impression will still be of the correct note. For example, a loud, held F in all of your bass instruments while your timp plays a G, will give the impression that everyone is playing the F.
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whitebark

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Re: Composing for Tympani
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2017, 03:07:47 PM »
Thanks for the info, Michel. It does look like preparing a proper tympani part can take a little thought and planning.

tbmartin

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Re: Composing for Tympani
« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2017, 10:37:33 AM »
note: there is an interesting effect, an illusion if you will, where if your other bass instruments are playing one note, your timps can actually play the "wrong" note and the impression will still be of the correct note. For example, a loud, held F in all of your bass instruments while your timp plays a G, will give the impression that everyone is playing the F.

Another "cheat" is to have the timps play a different note in the chord rather than forcing a retune. Substituting the fifth for the root or vice-versa is probably least noticable.
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