Percussion Clinic Adelaide
Handy Tips for Percussionists, Timpanists and Drummers
by Jim McCarthy

1 - with orchestral work, a timpanist usually has to wear a suit jacket for a performance. Many jackets have plastic buttons on the sleeves which can have the unfortunate tendency to sit down on the drum skin during dampening and create a buzzing sound as it contact the vibrating head. You can prevent this by removing the buttons (nobody in the audience will notice or care!) or getting some velvet covered buttons sewn in their place.

2 - for most percussionists a bow tie does not represent a problem, but a long tie can. As we are moving a lot, and often leaning forward over our instruments, a long tie can get in the way if allowed to dangle. If wearing a long tie in performance, it can never hurt to pin it to your shirt with a tie pin, or even an invisible safety pin.

3 - percussionists often use a flat music stand as a trap table. If you're doing this it is a good idea to use one that actually has a screw-type height adjustment. The stands which are adjusted by simply pushing and pulling will often not hold up a heavy weight. I once had a bad experience using one of these stands whilst playing timpani. It was set up nice and close, so that the flat part of the stand hung over the drum heads. To begin with, the stand seemed to hold the weight of the mallets ok. Halfway through a nonstop playing piece though, it began slowly to slide down. When it stopped against the timpani head, it prevented the skin from vibrating properly, deadening it. Unfortunately the music didn't allow me a chance to fix the problem, so I just had to sound bad.

4 - most experienced timpanists always check the stool height, and check for squeaks etc before playing, but a less obvious thing to check, is the gauges. If using a set of timpani for the first time, we should always play the drums loudly for a while after setting the gauges. If the sliding pointers are all loose, they will often begin to slide downwards as the drum vibrates. Some Blu-Tac or pencil marks can save you the embarrassment of poor intonation in this situation - but you must check it before you begin the performance.

5 - if the gauges are completely non-functional (and I have been in this situation once or twice), and you cannot possibly tune the notes during the performance using the ear, an emergency gauge can be made in the following fashion:- Tie a length of fine string or cotton to the top of the pedal. The string should run up to a nearby lug that is out of the playing area, and run across the skin to another lug on the other side of the drum. A weight is tied to the other end and hangs halfway down to the ground. a bit of paper clip, or even better, a simple knot in the string that won't buzz on the vibrating skin, is tied in the centre, away from the striking area. Small lines can now be marked with the soft pencil on the skin as note markers.

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