Timpani: do 7th chords make sense?

pbattersby

Member
In my high school orchestra I only had 2 timpani, but I'd be surprised to see or hear a timpanist playing a chord on 3 or more timpani for a couple of reasons. One reason is that you'd need extra long sticks to reach more than one timpani at a time with a single hand. Second, I'd expect any chord from a timpani to be too low and muddy to sound any good.
 
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M

mekosmowski

Member
Was that an English horn? It looked too big to be an oboe and didn't have the bulbous pre-bell space.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
A timpanist can use two mallets in one hand to strike two adjacent drums at once. Regular mallets are used. The sticks have to be held where they are at an angle of about 75 degrees to one another, which puts the heads about 12 inches apart. Since the timpanist has to go up and straddle the two drums, the strike points will be closer to 3 o’clock on the left drum of the pair, and 9 o’clock on the right drum. If the timps are no more than about 4 inches from one another at their closest (fairly typical), this enables the timpanist to strike the timp heads at the same distance from the bearing edge as usual.

You can't do anything fancy—just some quadruple hits and quadruple rolls. And requiring the timpanist to hold mallets like this for more than about 30 seconds is not a good idea; it's uncomfortable.

You need to include a performance note at the beginning of the part. For safety, the timpanist ought to be given at least 20 seconds to prepare; it's easy to acquire the two-stick grip in the first hand when the free hand can help, but trickier for the second hand when the helping hand already has two mallets. All this time the timpanist also has to keep track of the conductor and the music. So the next entrance needs to be well-cued one to two bars prior.

Timpani chords go all the way back to Beethoven (at least). There are dozens of works with timpani chords. The interval is most intelligible when the chord is on just two timps a perfect 5th apart. Middle to high range of each timp. Bartok wrote an A minor chord for three timps, but it doesn't come off as one. There is a scattering of 3- and 4-note chords and quadruple rolls for timp in the 20th century repertoire. A 7th chord on paper will not come of as one (too much inharmonicity in timpani). Four timps scored like that will be a very thick effect. If you really want some type of chord identity, you're better off using the 3rd and 7th, a dim. or perfect 5th apart (depending on your chord) if you can do without the root.
 

purple

Senior Member
You can, but, to be honest, it probably won't sound like a chord so much as a crunchy cluster of drums. I've seen that technique happen before but it had no more musical effect than just using two drums, to be honest. Maybe if it's really exposed and quiet it could make sense.
 

Loïc D

Monkeying with libraries
I’ve seen this live (with of course 2 timpanist and... up to 4-5 percussionists).

That said, if you really want a 7th on timpani, I’d advise to play is soft (to get more tone and less « slam ») in a exposed passage.
Otherwise this will just produce a mess of rumble.
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
And requiring the timpanist to hold mallets like this for more than about 30 seconds is not a good idea; it's uncomfortable.
I only had a couple of lessons on timps, but I just picked up some drumsticks and held them using a Musser marimba grip (which I also used on vibes back in the day). My version of the grip is closer to the heels of the sticks than that picture.

It isn't uncomfortable for me, even holding them 4 hours apart (e.g. 12 and 4 o'clock, which is more than 70˚), but it would take some practice to avoid flamming with them that far apart. Not worth going into a long explanation, but the point is that with that grip you can reach the sweet spots of two timps.

You could also do ripple rolls with that grip, for those who know what that is on marimba.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
Yes, Musser would seem to be better for this than the Burton.

I am not a timpanist myself, but am told the the difficult part of playing with two mallets per hand is in maintaining the optimum angle whilst playing forcefully, and that the nuance of stroke type is somewhat limited compared to normal playing.
 
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Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
I found tuning them while counting 50,000 bars of rests the hardest part.

And real timpanists get a great sound out of those drums, in fact they use a special grip for that reason (and I still find that grip awkward). But you're going to be playing softly if you're paying chords, so that may be less of a factor...

You know what? We're talking about samples. You can do anything with timps you want.
 

MC JJFresh

Always bringin' the biggest vinyl beats.
Studied timpani with the timpanist of the Detroit Symphony for a few years in college. You can hold two mallets in one hand, but it's nearly impossible to get a decent tone on both drums. As people mentioned earlier, anything more than two pitches turns into a rumble, especially if they are any less than a 4th apart. Getting lower in the instrument's range even a 4th become a mess of overtones. That low C on the largest drum often sounds more like a paper bag than a note at anything above mf anyway.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
Here are two examples from Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps":

In the first one, there is a 5 voice chord.
In the second one, have a look at the voice of the double bass; E vs. F; that's quite a bit of dissonance.
However, in that range you want notice it that much...;) IMG_4285.jpeg IMG_4287.jpg
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
Stravinsky was always like that!

I mean, The Rite starts with I think a high Bb on bassoon, and of course bassoons don't play that high.
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
Was that an English horn? It looked too big to be an oboe and didn't have the bulbous pre-bell space.

If you're not sure the difference between the two, it might be wise to stray away from 7th chords on the timpani XD

In all honesty, what's stopping you from omitting the 5th?