The timpani are your “dramatic movie” drums. If you hear a drumroll in a movie, and it’s not a snare drum, it’s probably timpani. They have low tones and tend to ring.
There are two grips for timpani playing: German and French.
German grip is similar to the matched grip, except the back of your hand will face straight up instead of at an angle.
French grip is also similar to matched, but our thumb will be on top of the mallet. Your thumb and the mallets will always point out in front of you. This is what most people use to play timpani.
Timpani are tuned by a foot pedal for each drum. Some have a gauge on the side of the drum to tell you what note it’s tuned to.
When you play timpani, you don’t play right in the center. If you do, the note doesn’t carry, it just sounds dampened and gross. So don’t do that. Think of the two lugs nearest to you making a pizza slice shape. You’ll play within this triangle, about 2/3 from the center, so about 1/3 off the rim. It’s pretty close to the edge, and that’s what makes the drum ring so much.
Most of what you play on the timpani will be rolls, and timpani rolls are almost always single-stroked (I say “almost” always because I’m sure there are some crazy drummers out there that have written other things…) When you’re done playing, cover the drums and reset the pedals (some prefer reset down, others prefer reset all the way up).
Random Fact: Vic Firth’s instrument of choice is the timpani. He’s played them for over 50 years.