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Field Drum:

Sound production


The tenor drum is beaten either with wood sticks or (more rarely) soft timpani mallets. The grip and striking spot are the same as on the snare drum.

Owing to its size the tenor drum resonates briefly (a little longer than the snare drum). Because this resonance is short it is not damped.

Playing position

In the orchestra the tenor drum is placed on a stand. Because it is so deep the percussionist plays it standing up, unlike the snare drum which can also be played by seated drummers.

In marching bands the drum rests against the drummer’s left hip and is beaten from the side.

Indefinite pitch

Owing to their construction drums have no definite pitch, or at least one that is only discernible with difficulty. The batter head and resonating head do not have the same thickness and are also tensioned differently (many drummers prefer the batter head to be more tightly braced). Both these factors, the different tension and head thickness, give rise to the impression of an indefinite pitch. The vibrations stimulated by striking the head are magnified by the resonance of the shell and the air inside it. They cause the resonating head to vibrate and this reacts both on the batter head, influencing (or ”hindering”) its vibrations. This retroaction results in complex asymmetrical vibration patterns which produce a sound that no longer has any definite pitch.

Definite pitch

One way to tune a drum to a definite pitch is to set the tension of each of the drumheads to a particular tautness in correspondence with each other. Through this technique, the snare head is tensioned more loosely than usual. Thicker heads also contribute to the development of a definite pitch. Modern production techniques produce drumheads with a very consistent thickness and this, coupled with the fact that the head can be fine-tuned with screws, means that drums can be tuned very precisely.

An earlier method of tuning involved placing the tenor drum on a horizontal base. This prevented the vibrating air inside the instrument from communicating with the outside via the snare head. This created a kind of ‘kettle effect’ as on the timpani. But this effect detracted from the sound which is why this method is no longer used today.

In his Requiem (1837) Hector Berlioz asks for a tenor drum tuned to Bb to support the timpani roll.