Can a professional orchestral percussionist play tam-tam and bass drum together? Could he/she position the two instruments near enough that they can played one with each hand?

The passage...

  • is loud and I would want the instruments to ring anyways (so there's no need to dampen)
  • is at a moderate tempo (q=88) and the rhythm is simple
  • has at least one or two beats between instruments (e.g. tam-tam on beat 2, b.d. on beat 3, etc.)
  • does not contain rolls

For example (in 4/4 time, again at quarter = 88). Also happy to hear any percussion-minded nitpicks about how to print this, as in do BD stems need to point down like in a band score, if tam-tam should appear on a different line or space, etc. etc.

enter image description here

  • 3
    If there’s anything before the first measure pictured you might want to check that also. I understand that depending on the dynamic marking, sometimes a tam-tam has to be primed before a loud note, since it otherwise just can’t get moving and loud enough otherwise. Aug 10, 2022 at 11:13
  • Oh yeah @Todd Wilcox I forgot about that! Do you know if subsequent priming is needed for all the other notes in the passage, or just the very first? As in, is the first note pictured sufficient to prime it for beat 1 of the next bar?
    – nuggethead
    Aug 10, 2022 at 11:16
  • 1
    The second tam-tam note pictured should be fine because there’s plenty of time after the BD note and it’s already primed from the first tam-tam note. Unless it’s a very very small tam-tam, it will still be ringing at the end of the first measure. To be more certain, it might help to clarify the dynamic here. Aug 10, 2022 at 11:21
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    Does it matter? In my experience, percussion parts are usually printed with more instruments than would be possible for a single person to play (with bass, snare, and cymbal often on a single sheet, for example). The percussionists themselves will usually divvy up the parts and figure out how many people are actually needed to play a single sheet of music - one sheet may not imply that the part can or should be played by one person. Aug 10, 2022 at 15:07
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    @NuclearHoagie yes it matters in this case because there is exactly one percussionist thanks to union rules. So I need to be certain it is playable by one
    – nuggethead
    Aug 10, 2022 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


Just a measley college freshman, but I think in this very specific instance that this would be perfectly OK.

I've played parts doing this in much worst circumstances. My only concern would be what is/(are) the last note(s) being played? Does the player have to eventually mute both instruments at the end? That would be the only tricky part. If they are all truly "let ring," then all good! The player could pretty easily have b.d. on the left and tam behind them, playing b.d. with left hand and tam with right hand. They could likely play both at the same time, if NECESSARY. Obviously though, the quality is going to suffer than if two people were playing it, but it is DEFINITELY doable.

For the stemming, if the player is on b.d. and tam, I'd keep both instruments on the same staff, but stem tam up and b.d. down. No need to put one instrument higher or lower than you already have it. But, you could put b.d on second space and tam on third space (going bottom to top). That's how a lot of cym/b.d parts are written.

Hope that helps. Thanks for asking these kinds of questions. Composers tend to think percussionists can do anything they write --"You're just hitting things. How hard can it be to play 15 instruments in 50 bars with the same quality as if you were playing them all individually?"

  • Both of these instruments are quite large, don't they get in the way of each other at all? Aug 10, 2022 at 5:06
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    Agree this is certainly doable for one player. It might even be possible to play both instruments with one mallet using the dominant hand, depending on the mallet used. Using a gong mallet to play a bass drum isn't ideal, but it could be OK for a few notes and may simplify things a bit depending on how ambidextrous the percussionist is. Aug 10, 2022 at 14:56
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    This is 100% doable. In the marching percussion world, it's not uncommon for someone to play both simultaneously. If you write your parts such that they can each be played single-handed and don't rely too heavily on muting, it's workable. The one caveat is that this would require a somewhat nonstandard percussion layout for a concert setting (typically the bass and snare are next to each other, and a tam would get in the way of that)
    – Tristan
    Aug 11, 2022 at 13:56

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