Perfect Percussion (Part 3) - Building the complete section


In the third part of his informative series, Dave Danford looks at the timpani and the options available to players.


A set of timpani is one of the few percussion instruments you can almost guarantee will be required in every concert or contest programme. 

Their inclusion in the brass band line-up is mostly thanks to orchestral transcriptions many decades ago, but they are now utilised in every brass band genre from slow chorales through to pop and contemporary music.

Purchasing a set of timpani can be a major financial hurdle for a band but thankfully it’s just as economical to buy a pair and then add extra drums later as it is to buy a full set of three, four or even five straight away.

Your method of transport is an important consideration when choosing which style of timpani to purchase. If your percussion instruments are transported between venues by coach or car then the timpani will need to be portable models. 

This means that the legs either slide into the bowl or they are removed completely. However, if your instruments are transported in a van then you have the luxury of being able to look at the fixed-size concert-style timpani which have a superior sound.

Portable Timpani

Adams timps
Adams portable timpani

There are a number of companies manufacturing portable timpani, with Adams and Ajax currently leading the field. The Adams Universal timpani are hugely popular and used by freelance musicians around the world. They are available in a range of sizes and you have a choice between fibreglass, copper or hammered copper bowls. 

The sound is superior on the copper instruments but they are substantially heavier. If you are only able to afford a pair to start off with then the best sizes to go for are 26” and 29”. When more funds are available a 23” should be the next purchase followed by a 32”.

Recommended models

Adams Universal fibreglass (26” & 29” first, then 23”, then 32”)
Adams Universal copper (26” & 29” first, then 23”, then 32”)
Adams Universal hammered copper (26” & 29” first, then 23”, then 32”)

Concert Timpani

Adams symphonic timpani
Adams Symphonic timpani set

If you have access to appropriate transport then it’s definitely worth investing in some concert timpani. As well as the superior tone, you’ll also benefit from a far better tuning mechanism. My personal favourites are made by Premier and Adams but there are also quality instruments available from Majestic and Yamaha.

Premier have five different ranges to choose from; Concert Fibreglass, Concert Aluminium, Concert Copper, Pro Symphonic and Elite. You do get what you pay for in terms of construction and sound as you move up the range but thankfully the one constant is the quality of the instruments. 

The Concert models are ideal for the needs of most brass bands. If you have a serious budget available then the industry standard Premier Elite timpani are outstanding instruments and the choice of professional timpanists in orchestras throughout the world. If you are starting off with just one pair of timpani then the best sizes to go for are 28” and 30”. This will give you the basic range required and you can gradually add more drums when necessary.

Adams have a number of different concert-style models available but the only ones really suitable for brass band use are the Professional and the Symphonic. The different between these is the pedal mechanism. 

Pedal mechanism
Adams pedal mechanism

Whilst the Symphonic has the clutch style system similar to Premier, the Professional has a tilting pedal which needs to be pressed forward to raise the pitch and towards the player to lower the pitch. Choosing which style to buy is a matter of personal preference. 

However, the vast majority of brass band contests in the UK have clutch-style timpani provided so you may have a nasty shock after hours of practice in the bandroom on tilting-style pedals. For this reason I’d recommend brass bands purchase the clutch-style models.

Recommended Models

Standard Timpani
Premier Concert Fibreglass (28” and 30” first, then 25”, then 32”)
Premier Concert Aluminium (28” and 30” first, then 25”, then 32”)
Premier Concert Copper (28” and 30” first, then 25”, then 32”)

High-End Timpani
Premier Pro Symphonic (28” and 30” first, then 25”, then 32”)
Premier Elite (28” and 30” first, then 25”, then 32”)
Adams Symphonic Copper (26” and 29” first, then 23”, then 32”)

All of the ranges above also have a smaller model available although this is only really necessary for extra high notes and five drum playing. This is 22.5” for Premier sets and 20” for Adams sets.

Cases and Covers

Timp covers

It’s worth investing in a set of covers for your timpani even if they are only being left in the bandroom. For a start it’s difficult to persuade non-percussionists that they’re not intended for use as tables and covering them will save damage to the heads (which are not cheap to replace). Premier supply covers which will do a fine job of protecting the drums in-situ but for transport there are more substantial covers available from GBz Cases or Mushroom Covers.

Custom built flight-cases are slightly excessive for brass band use but they are the best way of making sure the instruments stay in perfect condition, as long as you have a large van available to transport them. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales use padded covers for their Premier Elite timpani as do Ev-Entz Percussion Hire.

Dave Danford

Dave Danford is a freelance percussionist presenting solo recitals, masterclasses and sectionals as well as performing as a guest soloist with orchestras, wind orchestras and brass bands throughout the UK. Dave has been performing regularly with the Cory Band since 2004.


Other articles in the Dave Danford Series are to be found at:


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