In Search of the Missing Fundamental: by Richard K. Jones
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Step No. 6

During the initial stages of tempering, use a relatively large mallet covered with a very soft felt. A larger – heavier mallet will act as a low pass filter helping to mask the higher – non-harmonic partials; this will allow the principal tone to be heard more clearly.  Using a hard or light mallet in the initial stages of tempering may not produce a strong principal tone and will function like a high pass filter allowing the higher – non-harmonic partials to predominate. Unification of vibrating mode (1,1) at all lug points  is the objective in the initial stage of tempering. It is a good idea to experiment with different mallets until you get a solid reading on the meter. If at all possible, it is best do this process in a completely quiet room. As the head becomes more clear, gradually move to a harder mallet. The harder mallet will allow more of the higher partials to be heard in the spectrum.


Photo Courtesy of John J. Papastefan

1. Place the pedal of the drum so that it is in the lowest range for its MSR, heel to the floor as before, and that the pedal doesn’t move. If the drum has a master tuner, take the drum to the threshold of its pitch. NB: Make sure that the tension rods are engaged at each lug point. Provided that the mechanism tensions the head evenly, the lower you can temper the principal tone, the better the overall tempering will be.

2. Mute the other timpani so there will be no interference from sympathetic vibrations.

3. Start at lug no. 1 (usually close to the playing spot). Make sure that the head is not vibrating. Place the microphone close to the normal striking spot, gently strike the drum once (pp-p) and read what is on the meter. DO NOT OVERPLAY THE DRUM! The key to this method is all in the touch and how you excite mode (1,1).

4. For drums without a master tuner, the pitch reading should correspond with or be close to the desired lowest note of the MSR. If the pitch is sharp, ever so gently press on the center of the head. If the pitch is flat, adjust each tension lug up ever so slightly in the pattern prescribed above. Gently re-strike the drum and check the meter again. Repeat this process until the needle on the meter corresponds with the desired lowest of the MSR of the drum.

5. Using the cross-tuning pattern, work in channels or quadrants. Check and adjust each lug until all match or are as close to the lowest note of the MSR as possible. Be sure to dampen the drum before striking each time.

6. Make adjustments in small increments only and try to adjust the pitch up (sharpen) and not down (flatten).

7. Always work with opposing lugs to temper that particular set of diametric lugs. If the meter is slow to center but then shows the correct pitch, check the opposing lug and make adjustments there first as it will generally be the culprit. Work back and forth on opposing lugs in a mode. Be sure to get both lugs in a mode zeroed or balanced pitch-wise before moving to the next set of diametric lugs. Work around the drum with the cross-tuning pattern until all lugs are able to sustain an exact or very close pitch reading. Focus on the primary channel since that is where your primary playing spot will be.

8. Once all the lugs match in pitch, take the drum into mid playing range and strike the drum in the normal striking position with a medium or hard stick a few times softly and once loudly. Listen for the pitch of the soft strokes and loud stroke. They should match. If they do not, play on the drum for a short time and then take the drum down to the desired lowest note for the MSR or to the threshold of pitch for drums with a master tuner, and repeat the process. Be patient, it may take a few times.

9. When you get the drum to the point where the soft strokes and the loud strokes sound the same, strike the drum at various dynamic levels with sticks of various degrees of hardness. Listen for the immediacy, clarity and sustain of the principal tone. You should hear a strong, immediate and sustained principal tone as well as several near harmonic overtones. Essentially it will be the second partial, the third partial (sometimes the fourth and the fifth partial) of a harmonic series based on the missing fundamental of the principal tone. Depending on the type of head and pitch of the drum, you can occasionally hear near harmonic overtones up to the 7th partial.

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