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Assuming a professional performer with adequate equipment, can a single percussionist play a single stroke on both a timpani and a set of tubular bells at the same time (one with each hand)? The passage is at a moderate tempo so there would be sufficient time to "aim" the bell stroke to strike the correct note. I would like both instruments to ring indefinitely after, so there is no need to damp.

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    Can you clarify that, please? If 'adequate equipment' includes suitable spacing doesn't that mean yes, of course, anyone could stroke both a timpani and a set of tubular bells at the same time (one with each hand)? Would it be different for a glockenspiel and a xylophone or a tambourine and a triangle? Sep 4, 2023 at 19:57
  • To clarify: the setup is 2 timpani and one set of bells. The venue is a church with a small orchestra and full choir, so space will be very limited
    – nuggethead
    Sep 4, 2023 at 20:00
  • Thanks and how does that change the Question? There are two timpani and one set of bells and why would it be difficult for a percussionist to strike both at once? If the church, the small orchestra or the choir matter, how do they? Sep 4, 2023 at 20:29
  • Show us the score so we know what you're asking of the poor percussionist. Sep 4, 2023 at 21:00
  • This is reminding me of the best moment of Waiting for Guffman, of the timpanist doubling on trumpet, holding the note and reaching for the mallet... Sep 5, 2023 at 17:22

3 Answers 3

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It depends a lot on the setup. What else is the percussionist supposed to play? How much space is there at the performance? How many Timpani do you have?

Keep in mind that a set of timpani takes a lot of space, and so does a set of tubular bells, and many other percussive instruments. It might be a challenge to place all percussive instruments in a way such that the percussionist can quickly change between instruments and play timpani and tubular bells at the same time.

It may be viable to hang a single tubular bell over the timpani set, but of course this would have less resonance!

But instead it might be better to simply add another player, even if it is just for this single note. Percussionists would often get one of their students to do such parts, it is not exactly uncommon.

Also if you intend to add more percussion: Due to the prominence of timpani in orchestral music you’d often see two percussionists, one doing timpani and one (or more) doing the rest (bass drum, tenor drum, snare, cymbals, kit, triangle, xylo/vibra/glockenspiel, triangle, woodblocks, ...). So adding a second percussionist would give you a lot of additional freedom.

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  • "of course this would have less resonance!" Why? A tubular bell set doesn't generally have any resonant cabinet/structure besides the bells themselves. It's just a frame of metal tubing holding the bells up and a dampening mechanism.
    – Edward
    Sep 3, 2023 at 18:07
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    @Edward It is not just a frame holding the bells up. A good frame will make it easier to properly strike the bells, getting a good sound, while also reducing dampening. If you just have a single bell dangling from a random stand you’ll most likely get less response than if you use a proper frame.
    – Lazy
    Sep 3, 2023 at 18:26
  • "A good frame will make it easier to properly strike the bells" if we're talking about hanging a single bell, that just means putting it at the right height. "while also reducing dampening" dampening is reduced primarily by the design of the bell (specifically, where the mounting hole is drilled) and by suspending it with wire. Any stand could hold the wire and it would have a comparable sound. Look at this video for an up-close of the design. youtube.com/watch?v=g_YNkfPUqIQ&t=336s
    – Edward
    Sep 3, 2023 at 21:07
  • @Edward I'm no musician, but a physicist, and I'd expect some coupling between the tubular bells, through the frame and air, exciting further harmonics. This is related to the classic experiment in which metronomes synchronise due to tiny vibrations. Whether enough energy is transferred to be audible is another matter, especially as the mounting holes are at a node of the most important vibration. It would be an interesting test with a decent microphone and spectrum analyser.
    – Chris H
    Sep 4, 2023 at 12:54
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It's physically possible. In a theatre pit this sort of multitasking is commonplace - but there probably wouldn't be a full set of kettles, just one or maybe two. In a symphony orchestra the timpanist plays timpani, you're expected to hire another player for percussion.

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Yes. I see no reason why they couldn't hit 2 things at once, one with each hand. The tempo of the piece doesn't matter; what matters is the length of time between notes. As a practical matter, they would probably have to set up with tubular bells behind the timpani, so they could play a high timpani + bells, or low timpani + bells, but doing both in the same passage might be awkward.

Also, generally the default position for tubular bells is dampened, so letting it ring would require them to keep a foot on the pedal. This would be awkward if they needed to resume playing timpani as normal while the bells are ringing. If the player is free to be tied up by holding the pedal, this is not an issue. Of course, there is always a high-tech workaround involving a dumbbell, but you should prefer an arrangement that doesn't require this if possible.

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    It seems like it would be awkward to "set up the bells behind the timpani" and "keep a foot on the pedal" of the bells. Sep 3, 2023 at 13:28
  • I expanded a bit on the pedal issue
    – Edward
    Sep 3, 2023 at 17:15

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