Why do some drums (e.g. timpani, rototom) have a distinct pitch, while others do not? What is the physical difference that results in a distinct pitch or lack thereof?

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    Interested to read some drummers’ replies to this. AFAIK most drums have some pitch they can be tuned to; for instance, there are different ways to tune a standard drum kit. But you’re right, some drums are considered pitched, and others less so. Mar 13 '20 at 22:11
  • To start with, have a look at my answer here: music.stackexchange.com/a/24696/9198 The other answers and question are interesting too. There are a few other related posts on Music.SE that can be found by searching for “drums tuning”. Mar 13 '20 at 22:15
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    This has to do with how what modes of vibration the drum has, and what the frequency relationship of those modes with each other is. acs.psu.edu/drussell/Demos/MembraneCircle/Circle.html has some nice graphics of modes, though won't fully answer your question about the differences. Note that there's not a clear distinction between 'tuned' and 'non-tuned'; there's a lot of woolly 'kinda-tuned' space in the middle.
    – topo morto
    Mar 14 '20 at 0:22
  • Just saying, Every sound has a Pitch. Even the non-tuned ones have pitch, just that the drummer (or Percussionist) doesn't care about the pitch. Like in Rock Music, Drums is mostly used for Beats. Thus pitch doesn't matter. But in Orchestra Timpani's maybe used in Building Tension, and also Harmonies. Thus Timpanis are Tuned. In Indian Music, all the Percussion Instruments are tuned ireespective of the role it plays (Beats or Harmonic). I'm also looking forward for a Percussionist to share info on how They differ Physically. Mar 14 '20 at 5:21
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    @RishiNandha_M if you think every sound has a pitch, I'm interested how you are defining "pitch". What's the pitch of white noise, for example?
    – topo morto
    Mar 14 '20 at 11:06

It's a much simpler job to tune a drum which has one head. Timps are such. One head will produce one pitch (plus the complex overtones) when it's stretched regularly. When it's uneven, it'll try to produce several different pitches, resulting in a bit of a mess. Rototoms are similar, with just the one head. I don't think they'd do the job with two.

The majority of drums with two skins/heads are not impossible to tune so that they produce a pitch, but for that to be successful, both heads need to be in tune, which is often not what happens on a standard drumkit, for instance. It's bad enough getting the beater head regulated, without then repeating the operation on the other.


Some physical differences that result in a distinct pitch of an instrument may include but are not limited to, size of the drum, tightness of the drum, the type of material of the drum, etc. I hope that helps.

【Andrew B】

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