The timpani tonic-dominant tunings appear like this in standard:

  1. In C: C3-G2 (downwards)
  2. In C#: C#3-G#2 (downwards)
  3. In D: D3-A2 (downwards)
  4. In Eb: Eb3-Bb2 (downwards)
  5. In E: E3-B2 (downwards)
  6. In F: F2-C3 (upwards)
  7. In F#: F#2-C#3 (upwards)
  8. In G: G2-D3 (upwards)
  9. In Ab: Ab2-Eb3 (upwards)
  10. In A: A2-E3 (upwards)
  11. In Bb: Bb2-F3 (upwards)
  12. In B: B2-F#2 (downwards)

Beethoven sometimes broke the rule that is listed above. For example, in the scherzo of his ninth, the timpani tuning appears as F3-F2. The question here is, why did Beethoven break the rules?

  • 1
    F3-F2 is not a tonic-dominant tuning. Pieces don't tend to stick to tonic-dominant tunings for their timpani. For example, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 3 in C Minor has its timpani tuned to G-Bb-C (all going up in pitch). – Dekkadeci Feb 11 at 6:54
  • 1
    In the first movement (in D minor), the Timpani are tuned to D and A, like "normal" I suppose, but there are no rules. The second movement (also in D minor) starts with octaves on all the instruments, and the timpani are played solo in one of the first measures, so it makes sense for them to play octaves as well. Another way to look at it is, why not tune the timpani to Fs? One effect is that the timpani are playing two of the notes of the D minor triad in the first movement, and then they are playing the third note in the second movement. Finally, it sounds good. – Todd Wilcox Feb 11 at 7:07
  • I see. Like in the scherzo of the ninth, the timpani used its F-F tuning so it could join with the orchestra to complete the d-minor triad. So it goes like this: D - A - F - D. Am I right? – RailroadHill Feb 11 at 11:34

There never were rules.

Timpani were traditionally tuned as they most often were because there wasn't much other choice in their limited range, because of tradition, or because people couldn't think of anything better to do with them.

Beethoven lived in a time where the art of instrument-making advanced dramatically (in fact, he drove some of those advances himself), he was a revolutionary by nature and he had more imagination in his little finger than most of his predecessors combined. So it's no wonder that he should have been the first to use e.g. the tritone or the octave in place of the traditional tonic/dominant tuning.

  • Yes. Bruckner's 7th symphony's finale uses E-C (1-b6) instead of E-B (1-5) . – RailroadHill 3 hours ago
  • Beethoven's 5th's 2nd mvt is in Ab-major, and uses C-G (3-7) instead of Ab-Eb (1-5) as well! – RailroadHill 3 hours ago

A pair of two timpani is very common. As been said there are no rules, but if there are only two timpani instruments available then you need to use the range that is possible on those two drums. That means you would sometimes need to make the tonic-dominant downwards and other times upwards.

If you have more instruments, like 4 or even more, which have different ranges you have more possibilities. One timpani drum has a range of a fifth by the way.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.