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the location on a head where a stroke is placed shapes the harmonic struc-

ture and color of the corresponding sound (Rossing 1982, 178). Experi-
ence conrms that the playing spot; the weight of the mallet; the outer and
inner mallet covering; and the size of the mallet head affect tone color.
What are the acoustical characteristics of the timpani? The timpani
have a discernible pitch and a unique tone color because a stroke placed
on the drumhead produces a fundamental or principle pitch and a distinc-
tive series of harmonic overtones or partials. The overtones are typically a
fth, sixth, octave, and tenth, and twelfth above the principle tone (Ross-
ing 1982, 174176; 2000, 8; 1998, 595598). Because a circular membrane
does not produce a denable pitch, why do the timpani do so? Rossing
and others conrm that the bowl, head stiffness, and the surrounding air
mass coaxes certain inharmonic frequencies into an ordered set of partials
(typically the fth, sixth, octave, tenth, and twelfth), making the timpani a
pitched percussion instrument. The mass of air inside and outside of the
bowl accentuates the lower partials. The tension on the drumhead empha-
sizes the upper partials (the fth and above). The bowl separates the upper
and lower parts of the head, decreases the decay of the partials, and ac-
centuates the principle frequency (Rossing 174175; 2000, 612; 1998,
584599). For an explanation of timpani tone, visit the companion Web
site.
Donald Sullivan provides scientic evidence that the decay of timpani
sound impacts timpani tone. After placing a stroke on the drum, the prin-
ciple tone decays quickly, but the fth, octave, and tenth remain stronger.
This results in the impression that the tone of the timpani becomes brighter.
For example, Sullivan strikes an F on a 32-inch Ludwig timpani with a
medium stick. At the moment it is struck, the fundamental tone (approxi-
mately 100 Hz), fth (150 Hz), and octave (200 Hz) are strong. However,
after 2.5 seconds, the strength of the fundamental is much weaker relative
to the other overtones. Thus, at 2.5 seconds the tone is not as dark as it was
when it was rst struck. Rossing independently discovers that the principle
and the fth decay faster than the other partials (Rossing, 2000, 12).
Does the shape of the bowl inuence timpani tone? Timpanists and
scientists dispute this. Most timpanists I know say that the shape of the
bowl affects timpani tone. Henry Taylor concludes that hemispherical
bowls are not particularly resonant and shallow hemispherical bowls pro-
duce a short note. Hemispherical bowls with straight sides near the bear-
ing edge and apple-shaped bowls produce a satisfactory pitch and tone
(Taylor 1964, 2022). Similarly, the American Drum Company, manufac-
turer of Walter Light Dresden Timpani, describes semiat or apple-bottom
bowls as slightly dark with excellent resonance, at-bottomed bowls as
quite dark, and parabolic bowls as very bright (American Drum, 2009). In
his scientic studies, Rossing claims that the shape of the bowl has no ef-
fect on timpani sound. However, experience trumps science in this case.
In the following analysis, the author used AudioXplorer software and
a Sound Professionals SPSM-13 microphone (2020,000 Hz) to map tim-
pani acoustics. The microphone was placed two feet from the drum. The

6 Timpani Tone and the Interpretation of Baroque and Classical Music