Timpani - Sound combinations
Played in unison and in unison with additional octave doubling with the bass instruments of the other instrument groups (bassoon, bass clarinet, cello, double-bass, bass trombone and bass tuba) the timpani produce a fairly homogeneous blend. A blend between the timpani and the rest of the orchestra is created.
If the timpani double an octave on their own (above or below, without any other instrument) their sound becomes more individual.
Timpani + brass instruments
Timpani + trumpets
Timpani and trumpets form a pairing rooted in history; the significance of their sound and symbolism lies in the tonal development of magnificence: the timpani form a powerful base upon which stirring trumpet fanfares resound. There is no tonal blend between the two instruments, their sounds complement each other to marvelous effect. In pieces from the Classical period the timpani’s tonic-dominant foundation is doubled by the trumpets one and two octaves higher – often in climaxes – so that a solid pillar of sound over three octaves results.
Timpani + horns
The horn – the orchestral instrument that blends with all the instrument groups in the orchestra better than any other instrument – plays the typical cadences in pieces from the Classical period along with the timpani and the trumpets. The horns play the notes of the tonic and dominant triads in parallel thirds and sixths – about an octave higher than the timpani, while the timpani play the root notes which are usually doubled in two octaves by the trumpets.
The horns can also double the timpani in unison, in which case the first horns play in unison with the timpani, while the second horns play an octave higher. This results in an excellent blend.
If the horns play an octave above the timpani without playing in unison the higher voice is the principal voice and the lower voice (timpani) reinforces its sound.
Timpani + trombones
Often play in unison. Timpani rolls played piano which are doubled by long trombone notes played in unison are very effective.
Timpani + tuba
Some parts of the tuba’s timbre are absorbed by the sound of the timpani. The tuba often plays an octave below the timpani. The effect of this is dark and powerful.
Timpani + woodwinds
All the sound combinations with the woodwinds develop best in piano passages.
Timpani + flutes, oboes
The sounds of these instruments are very distinct from one another.
Timpani + bass clarinet
Produce a melancholy effect played in unison. Part of the bass clarinet’s timbre is swallowed by the timpani.
Timpani + bassoon, contrabassoon
The bassoon often plays in unison with the timpani, the contrabassoon an octave lower. The mellow overall sound that results is rich in overtones and develops best when played piano.
Timpani + strings
The strings’ tremolo chords, played over a foundation of timpani rolls, are tremendously dramatic and one of this combination’s most thrilling effects. String tremolos coupled with timpani rolls are well suited for dynamic shifts – crescendo and decrescendo.
The timpani roll together with a bowed tremolo played fortissimo provides a vibrant mass of sound in tutti passages.
Timpani + cello
Often play in unison. Both single strokes and tremolos together with the cellos are a common sound combination. The necessary resonance is provided by the double-basses an octave lower.
Timpani + double-bass
The double-basses complement the timpani an octave below them; the timpani are the principal voice. Usually the cello also plays in unison with the timpani at the same time. The double-basses’ pizzicato an octave below gives the timpani additional resonance.
Timpani + harp
Played pianissimo or piano and in unison these instruments produce a good effect. Timpani, harps and pizzicato strings lend each other additional resonance.