Friday, August 5, 2016

#003 - So THAT's How You Tune the Timpani

For the last 11 years I have watched in amazement as one of the band directors I team teach with (and an amazing percussionist) tunes the timpani.  He steps over and taps the drum a few times, adjusts the foot pedal and he's done - no pitch pipe, no tuner, no tuba player.  For years I have wondered how Kevin did this - surely he has perfect pitch or very job relative pitch for the timpani.  

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve just figured out how he does this (after 27 years of teaching as a band director - I probably embarrass tuba players to admit this).  I hope there’s at least one other person on the planet that has wondered about this timpani player trick.  Surely I was told this in my percussion methods class in 1985 but if I was it didn’t stick in my brain.

I have known the pitches for the 32”, 29”, 26” and 23” drums should be D, F, Bb, and D - Die Fat Batman Die. While not everyone uses this tuning, it does seem to be fairly standard amongst bands.    Kevin is great at keeping the timpani tuned so when the timpani is heel down/toe up, you have 4 very useful pitches you can tune the timpani from - the timpani..  Ding, Ding, Ding - Lightbulb!

How do you keep the timpani in tune to the fundamental pitch? Here's a good source of information. How to keep the timpani in tune - adjusting the pedals.

This past week, I was able to use my newly discovered knowledge to tune two timpani to Bb and F without the use of a pitch pipe, tuner, or tuba player.  I needed a 2nd line Bb and a 4th line F so I tuned the 26” timpani to the F an octave lower from the 29” and then tuned the 29” up a perfect 4th and wahla I’d tuned the timpani.

Now that I’ve learned to tune four timpani - I’m going to spend my next 28 years learning to tune oboe unisons.