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I've been working on my timpani playing, and the music has it written in that I should dampen certain notes at various parts of the song. But having I'm having trouble figure out the best technique for doing so. When I put my hand flat on the timpani head it makes a buzzing sound and the sound continue for a while afterwards. If I press harder, the resonance stops slightly more quickly, but the notes goes sharp because of the added tension on the head.

How can I learn to dampen timpani quickly, but with minimal 'ring over', sharpness of note, and buzzing sound from my hand touching the drum?

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2 Answers 2

Dampening timpani is not a complete art in itself, but it does take some practice to do well. The easiest technique is to use the pads of your fingers and palm to stop the vibration as you said, but things get slightly more complex than that. I find small quick circles with the hand on the drum head can make for a faster dampening and usually doesn't make too much extra noise. If you really need the sound stop stop quickly, you can use your entire forearm in addition to your palm.Also take note where you are placing your hand on the timpani (edge, center, middle, etc.) as each will give you a slightly different effect. I'd probably go for the area between the edge and the center for quickest stop of sound and least buzz, but you should still experiment on your own to see what works best.

Things get slightly more interesting when you have to continue playing while dampening or have to dampen multiple drums at once. You can usually use fingers 2, 3, and 4 for the dampen and regrasp the stick for another note very quickly. If you have to dampen three or more drums, try using both hands and your elbow for the last drum. I've even heard tell of some professionals using their legs and knees when 5 drums had to be dampened at once.

If you want to get really good results, you can buy woolen gloves, cut out the thumb and first, and wear them the entire time when you play. I've occasionally seen players have a good-sized piece of felt nearby to throw over the drum to mute it, but this usually isn't necessary. :D

Disclaimer: self answer!

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I discussed this topic with my teacher a few weeks ago because I also had problems with dampening the timpani. I never managed to do it without adding any noise from touching the head. He gave me three tips that solved most of my problems:

  1. Although it is desirable to have the muting as silent and perfect as possible, not everything you hear is heard by the audience. A small remaining buzz sound will never be avoidable.

  2. A good technique is to touch the head at the edge and then quickly move your hand or finger to the center of the timpani. This way, all kinds of oscillating modes of the head are dampened.

  3. Practicing helps. Use some time in your practice routine for the topic exclusively to find out what works best for you.

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+1 for #2. Did you mean to say 'nodes' instead of 'modes', though? –  NReilingh Jun 9 '13 at 20:43
    
@NReilingh: no, I really meant the different vibration modes of the head, see music.nebrwesleyan.edu/wtt/?page_id=183 –  groovingandi Jun 10 '13 at 21:22
    
Whoa, awesome link! I thought either sounded plausible, just checking. :) –  NReilingh Jun 11 '13 at 15:12

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