when i was in high school i had ‘tone anxiety’ on timpani.
i wasn’t confident in my basic stroke, and every time i played a note i would stress about whether it was a good sound or not. i felt like my hand didn’t know how to hold the stick.
if i took a lesson on timpani and got comments on my tone, it would only confuse me. i’d try stretching out my fingers on the bamboo or using different wrist motions… but i still had tone anxiety.
i kept stressing about this until i finally found an article that laid out the concept perfectly for me.
it was called “Timpani: Basic Sound Production” and i found it in the february 1996 percussive notes. (go check it out if you have a PAS membership.)
the author was this guy named Duncan Patton, whom i’d never heard of.
but that didn’t matter. what mattered was the series of 7 exercises that the article walks you through to build the most beautiful, ideal, foundational timpani stroke.
it literally starts by simply dropping the stick and letting it freely bounce off the head. and, step by step, you transform that motion into a stroke.
i spent a few entire days of practice figuring it out, and it completely cured my tone anxiety. (if you’re playing with the most ideal stroke according to physics, then how can your sound be anything but ideal?) and i’d often revisit it when i needed to remind myself how that stroke should feel.
about 8 or 9 years later, i joined the metropolitan opera orchestra and duncan patton became my colleague. i got to sit next to him and listen to his playing for many great years until his retirement.
i’ve always wanted to share what i learned from his article, and fortunately duncan is here today to explain through (and teach me!) how to build a legato timpani stroke.