The Well-Tempered Timpani
In Search of the Missing Fundamental
by Richard K. Jones
Second Edition 2011
Welcome to The Well-Tempered Timpani. The creation of this WEBook resulted from my interest and curiosity about the physics of timpani as well as my desire to share with the percussion community at large some of my research, observations and insights of the instrument, both as a performer, and as an educator. There are numerous books on technique, repertoire, methods, history and literature, but few deal in any detail with the actual physics regarding the processes of fine-tuning the instrument. By this I mean the process of adjusting or tempering the head so that the pitch is uniform and constant throughout the range of the instrument. Well-tempered with respect to timpani pitch, means that all notes within the normal range of any drum can be tuned in such a way that the principal tone and upper partials will not sound perceptibly out of tune, and will blend well with the other pitched instruments in a ensemble.
My studies in this area began in earnest over thirty-five years ago while in graduate school studying the physics of music. I had played timpani for many years yet I had never understood how the instrument actually functioned acoustically. It was with great excitement and questioning that I approached discovering all that I could about this instrument and how it is unique in the world of definite pitched instruments. That discovery has continued and has spread to other areas such as historical evolution of the instrument, the history of its master players, psycho-acoustics, and pitch discrimination theories, laws of thermodynamics as well as many other areas. How and why timpani sound the way they do and how we can make them sound better was my quest. As with all great quests, the journey has been continuous and unending.
I hope that you will find this WEBook enjoyable and of interest to you.
Richard K. Jones
June 30th, 2016