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Updated on March 26, 2015

What is a Kettledrum

In the article you will find information on what is a kettledrum, where it originated, what the instrument consists of, etc. Also I will provide a brief instruction on how to play kettledrum. Enjoy the article!

Kettledrums (or kettle drums) as musical instrument are also known as timpano (singular timpani). It belongs to the family of percussion instruments. Don’t be surprised to find drums among those musical instruments that had been invented thousands of years ago. Different nations have drumming tradition and their specific technique of making kettle drums. However it is believed that kettledrums originated in Asia and was introduced to Europe in the middle ages. The basic design patterns of kettledrum remains almost unchanged for centuries. Like other membranophone instruments of the percussion family, kettledrums initially were designed to serve religious and military purposes. Now kettledrums are an integral part of ethnical or rock bands as well as various orchestras. What makes kettledrum unique is its exceptional sounding that conveys depth and emphasis to the orchestral sounding.


What Are Kettledrums Made Of?

Normally kettledrums are made of fiberglass or copper. They consist of several parts, namely: the resonator (also known as the bowl or the body), drumhead, tension screws, the pedal, tuning gauges to tune the instrument, and mallets. Flat leather pads (known as mutes) are used to created specific sounding timbers. These mutes limit kettledrum head vibrations. Also a musician can use only fingers or some strange objects to play kettledrums – all is made to achieve unique sounding vibrations.


Kettledrum Techniques

There are different techniques of playing drums, namely: stroke (double or single), drag, diddle, para-diddle, flam, and roll.

To play kettledrum you would need special mallets. There are different types of kettledrum mallets. Depending on the required sounding tone, intensity, smoothness or loudness of the sound a musician uses special set of mallets. The faster the rolls the smaller mallet heads are used. And on the contrary slow and loud beats can be possible only with large head mallets.

But there is not only the kettledrum on the stage. Musicians have a set of drums – which is known as drums kit. Each drum has its specific sounding features. However the kettledrum can be tuned several pitches in range by a pedal. This allows a musician to adjust the musical instrument according to musical requirements. Including the size variety of kettledrum that usually comes in the set – and you can imagine how diverse vibrating sound of this instrument can be. The kettledrum kit covers from the low D up to the top B flat clef staff – which almost makes 2 octaves. Normally there are 31 in, 29 in, 26 in, and 23 in small in diameter kettledrums.


Instructions on how to play kettledrum

Step 1. Stand at the kettledrum keeping the feet near its pedal.

Step 2. Take kettledrum mallets with thumbs facing up on top of the handles. Then loosely grasp the handles by wrapping the fingers around the mallet handles.

Step 3. To make light sounding tones keep the fingers holding lightly. Whereas if you want to make a heavy tone sounding then squeeze the handles.

Step 4. Keep the mallets over the kettledrum head at about 3 in above and 4 in inside the rim. It would seem to be across your standing position.

Step 5. Before striking the kettledrum head, raise your arm 2-3 in high and then make the strike with the mallet.

Step 6. When the strike is made, snap the wrist and pull the hand to the shoulder level.

Step 7. Return the mallet to the original position over the kettledrum head.

Step 8. Repeat the strikes with alternating mallets.

Step 9. To change the pitch press on the pedal.

Sonata for 3 Kettledrums" Movements I & II by Daniel Jones


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