1. The bottom space is the letter A.  

  2. The musical alphabet only has 7 letters:
    A B C D E F G and then they repeat starting with A.

  3. If you go up the staff, you are going forwards in the alphabet.  If you go down the staff, you are going backwards in the alphabet.

  4. Leger lines are lines above or below the five-line staff. The same rules apply.


  1. Always tune from the bottom up. Start with the pedal all the way down.

  2. Play the note you need on the pitch pipe. Remember it's written in bass clef!

  3. Sing or hum the note to yourself.

  4. Strike the drum once and use your foot to press down on the pedal in a smooth motion. You will hear the pitch raise like a slide whistle or a trombone gliss.

  5. Once the pitch matches the note you are humming, stop moving the pedal.

  6. Play the pitch again to double check.

  7. If you go too far, do not try to work backwards. Reset pedal to starting position and try again.



  1. Each drum sounds best in the middle of their range... 


  2. Look ahead to see how many different notes you will need to play. If you can, spread them out on the drums so you don't need to re-tune within the piece.

  3. If you need to tune during the song, map out your plan by drawing diagrams on the music at each place you will be tuning.

  4. You want to be efficient. If you can, use drums that are next to each other.

Therefore, a Bb would sound better on the 29'' drum rather than the 26'' drum.

Timani selection example

There may be more than one way to set up the tuning plan. Below is an example of two different tuning solutions for the same piece.


Click on picture for a larger view.


Experiment to find the smoothest sticking patterns for your music. Use this "order of operations" to help you figure out a plan. 





 ALTERNATE: Use every other hand.

SHIFT: Rotate your body to transition to different drums.

Low-->high = lead with your right hand 

High-->low = lead with your left hand

Even grouping of notes = begin with the stick closest to the second drum

Odd grouping of notes = begin with the stick farther away from the second drum

DOUBLE STROKE: NOT a double bounce stroke like on snare drum. This just means to play two single strokes in a row with the same hand.

CROSS STICK:​ If the tempo gets too fast, you may need to cross one stick over the other to get to a different drum. Use a German grip to cross by turning your wrist over the other hand. Then bring the other hand under the "crossed" stick and continue playing. 

4.    The X marks when to cross


GRACE NOTE (FLAM): Play with more separation on timpani than when playing on snare drum.

TWO GRACE NOTES (DRAG): Use two alternating single strokes instead of a double bounce stroke.


DAMPENING (AKA muffling): stopping the sound by sliding fingers on the head.


Easiest way = Stike with one hand, dampen with the other. If that is not possible, dampen with the same hand that you played.


When dampening multiple drums at the same time, silence the last drums played first. Then move your hands quickly to the other drums in a sweeping motion.


  • At the end of a piece

  • During a rest


  • When more clarity is needed. Dampen one note while playing the next.

  • For a staccato sound

Let the style of the piece and context of the part help you decide if you should dampen.

In the following exerpt from Jazz a Little Waltz, the (D) indicates where you need to dampen. Because the tempo is 160bpm, it is not practical to have the beginning student dampen during every eighth rest. 

Using hard mallets will help with the clarity of the 16th note rhythms and eighth rests.


Move the pedal in one smooth motion. If you go too fast, you will probably overshoot the pitch. If you go too slow, the sound may fade away before you get to the right pitch.

If you keep tapping the drum while moving the pedal, you will likely forget your original pitch. Just tap it once at the beginning.

You should be able to sing the note into the drum or have someone with a different instrument play that note and hear it ring back in the drum. If not, it is not in tune.

If you need to tune softly, tap the drum with your finger rather than a mallet and lean in close to listen. 

Instead of a pitch pipe, you could also use a mallet instrument or a piano to get the pitch.

© 2016 by Alison Anderson-Kahl

Masters project designed for the American Band College of Sam Houston State University