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Percussion 101: Timpani


This series of video lessons will provide students and instructors alike with a comprehensive introduction to the fundamental techniques for the most common percussion instruments. From instrument setup to maintenance to performance techniques, Vic Firth’s PERCUSSION 101 will cover the essential skills necessary for today’s all-around percussionist.

The curriculum for this series was compiled by members of Vic Firth’s Collegiate Educator Program which includes some of the most influential university instructors in the country. Presented by percussionist David Skidmore in a relaxed, approachable atmosphere, this series is sure to become the most widely referenced video guide for percussion education!

To learn the fundamentals for timpani maintenance, tuning and playing techniques, first take some time to watch the following videos.

Video 1: Instrument Characteristics & General Maintenance

An overview of the timpani and tips how to maintain and transport the instrument. Including an extensive article on replacing timpani heads.

Video 2: Setup

Suggestions for properly positioning the drums, music stand and mallet tray.

Video 3: Grip and Basic Stroke

Presenting the fundamentals of gripping the sticks (French, German, American), proper beating area and playing with a relaxed, full stroke.

Video 4: Sticking Considerations

A discussion of alternating, leading-hand, cross-over and double sticking techniques.

Video 5: Rolls

Suggestions for developing a relaxed sustaining roll sound on timpani. Including a discussion of roll speed and moving from drum to drum.

Video 6: Muffling

The basics for stopping the sound with the fingers, including muffling for note length and for clarity.

Video 7: Tuning

Learning to sing and hear pitches as well as transferring the pitch to the drum. Including finding the best drum for a given pitch.

Video 8: Advanced Tuning Recommendations

Covering other tuning topics: singing intervals, tuning with a tuning fork, sympathetic resonance and tuning etiquette.

Video 9: Articulation and Stroke Speed

Using stroke speed to create more articulation without changing mallets.

Video 10: Mallet Selection

An overview of some of the sound possibilities possible using a variety of mallets.


IMPORTANT NOTE: Each computer station has ONE OPPORTUNITY to take this test and receive a CERTIFICATE OF ACHIEVEMENT (you may take the test as often as you like – but no certificate will be offered on subsequent attempts).

Before  you take the test, CLICK HERE to download the


A good timpanist should have a variety of mallets to create a wide range of sounds and tonal colors. Here are our most popular products for timpani:

The American Custom® Series timpani models reflect Vic’s fifty years of experience as Solo Timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Each mallet is turned from a single piece of rock maple, which eliminates a core that could rattle and the need for a screw-on washer to secure the head. Coupled with round seamless heads, they produce bigger and brighter sounds.


Vic Firth’s PERCUSSION 101 and online tests are a great resource to implement in YOUR curriculum!


What is PERCUSSION 101?

The PERCUSSION 101 project is a series of video lessons that provide students and instructors alike with a comprehensive introduction to the fundamental techniques for the most common percussion instruments. The curriculum for this series was compiled by members of Vic Firth’s Collegiate Educator Program which includes some of the most influential university instructors in the country. The series covers instrument characteristics, maintenance routines, tuning, mallet selection and general playing techniques on the instruments. In addition, rehearsal techniques & exercises will help you to develop a great fundamental percussion program.

Who was PERCUSSION 101 developed for?

This project was originally developed for use in the college percussion methods class – to serve as instruction for non-percussionists who will be charged with teaching percussion in the schools. It quickly developed into a resource to find quick answers to common questions after these students went in the field. For current band directors, the “BAND DIRECTOR’S PERCUSSION SURVIVAL GUIDE” was the first implementation of this project. Type in your question, find a quick and applicable answer! It’s as easy as that!

After we began to see what a truly valuable resource this was, we began to integrate study guides and online tests so that percussion students could also take advantage of the information. After all, how much time do you REALLY have in your classroom or private lesson studio to cover all of the percussion instruments fully? Generally, we fix the problems with gaps in knowledge as they occur instead of proactively covering all of our basics!

How can I integrate PERCUSSION 101 into my curriculum?

Whether you are a college percussion methods instructor, a band or orchestra director or a private percussion lesson teacher, we’ve made this resource a valuable “HANDS-OFF” teaching resource! The information for all of the instruments is presented in a series of videos which cover all the fundamentals, so student can watch on their own. Here are some recommendations for implementing this in your curriculum:

AS HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT OR CLASSROOM ACTIVITY: On each instrument “module”, there is a STUDY GUIDE that students can download. This study guide will keep them on-task by asking simple questions on information that was included in the video (in sequential order). Simply assign an instrument to the student (giving him or her the appropriate link on our website), hand them a printed study guide, then collect the study guide as proof that they watched the videos!


AS A TEST: At the end of each list of videos there is an embedded ONLINE TEST that can be administered through any web browser. The study guide questions are shuffled, and multiple choice answers are provided. At the end of the test, the student will be given a number grade with a copy of his or her completed test explaining all the correct answers.

If the student passed with a 70% or above, a “CERTIFICATE OF ACHIEVEMENT” is available for printing at the end of the exam (to hand in to you for recording in your grade book).

But what about PRIVACY CONCERNS?

Vic Firth does NOT collect or share any information (name, email address, scores, etc) for any of the test participants. The “NAME” field at the beginning of the test is ONLY used for printing the “Certificate of Achievement” at the end of the test (the name appears on the certificate). Students are allowed to use any info in that text field (nickname, random numbers, student ID, etc). When emailing the test results, the email address IS NOT RECORDED for use by Vic Firth or anyone else.

Can I use the test without being online?

YES! But we obviously would like to avoid letting students download the test itself… Send us a note and we’ll be happy to email you a PDF copy that you can print and use in your classroom.

Any other questions?

If you have other questions, technical problems or simply want to leave us some suggestions on how to make this resource work better for you, please drop us a line!