This is part of the snare drum part from Ravel's Miroirs No. 4: Alborado del Gracioso (The jester's aubade).

Snare drum part. Ravel

What is the effect of both sticks playing the same note? If the sticks coincide precisely how different is the sound from that produced by one stick only? Is it simply a bit muffled? If they don't coincide precisely why doesn't he write the first note as an acciaccatura?

He's such a good orchestrator I'm sure he knew what he wanted. But what DID he want?

(My first question btw.)


All percussion instruments produce one sound from hitting the resonator and a different sound from the resonator vibrating. This is often overlooked because both sounds always occur together; however, using two sticks to hit the same drumhead simultaneously emphasizes one in comparison to the other. (This is precisely the kind of subtle instrumentation detail that Ravel is famous for.)

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  • Emphasizes the attack rather than the resonance you mean? What is the sound like? I can't imagine it. – Old Brixtonian Jul 14 at 22:47

Speaking as a physicist who's had to deal with the series expansion of "drum-head" vibrational modes, I can offer this:

When you hit one spot on a drum head, you are exciting resonant frequencies based on energy you poured into that location. When you hit two spots simultaneously, you will get some mix of the resonant frequency set that each "spot" would have generated on its own. Depending on how long the drumsticks remain in contact with the drum head, you may well have a secondary damping of each others' frequencies due to the restricted movement at the points of contact.

That does depend on where the two sticks hit the drum head. At least mathematically, you could get a lot of different results by spacing radially and/or circumferentially.

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  • Thanks, Carl. Yes, that seems right. I'm wondering if what was important to Ravel was that there should be some subtle difference between beats one and two in each of those bars. If, as you say (and as I imagine) there is likely to be some 'damping of each other's frequencies', then the final bar becomes a continuation of the crescendo, the two slightly damped notes being quieter than the following ruff, which is quieter than the final accented quaver. – Old Brixtonian Jul 14 at 23:17

Two sticks will usually produce a louder, thicker sound than one. So it emphasises beat 1 from bar 28 on. Just putting an accent played with one stick will give a subtly different effect. It will, of course, vary with where on the head the sticks are played - and there's no indication for that. And occasionally, the player may well not hit that beat exactly together with both sticks, (good or bad...), and maybe would be guided by the conductor.

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  • Thanks, Tim. I'm not sure two sticks would sound louder. I still tend to think the sound would be rather muffled. I agree that the sticks are unlikely to land exactly together each time. But Ravel would have known that, and if he'd wanted a flam he'd have written one. – Old Brixtonian Jul 14 at 22:54

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