Sitting vs. Standing
One day, in a lesson that I had with Cloyd Duff, he told me, “Proper stick angles and a precise beating spot will be more consistent on the timpani from a sitting position, as well as keeping your feet on the pedal for constant adjustment of the pitch to match the orchestra.” Another time, in a lesson with Saul Goodman, he said…and pardon the colorful language, “How are you supposed to play with any energy and drama when your ass is screwed to a stool!”
Two great timpanists……two very different timpanists….and they both played the way that best showed their craft. My take on this…..you really need to try and commit to both sitting and standing to really appreciate the benefits, when playing the timpani.
So, let’s talk about the benefits and possibilities of sitting and standing.
Sitting, is definitely necessary when playing calf or goat skin heads, because of the intonation issue. I play calf when I am in our hall in Boston. While the humidity levels are usually somewhat predictable, I usually have the pedal unlocked and ready to tune while I’m playing….it’s the only way to be completely in sync, intonation wise, to the orchestra. Sometimes, when I play a very loud roll and make a diminuendo down to a very soft level, the pitch will rise during the diminuendo, so moving the pedal while playing is absolutely necessary. Also, the fact that I’m tall…well tall-ish, makes it easier on the ole back…..don’t need to bend over so much when sitting. Keeping the stick parallel to the ground is much easier as well. There are more benefits that I’m sure all you “sitters” can attest to.
Standing, in my opinion does promote more energy and vigor to the music…at least it does with the way I play. You can use your legs and upper body more to enhance the color. Also, if playing plastic heads, you do want to use stick angles to change the sound and it’s a bit easier to do this when standing.
I would like to say this, though, concerning the sit/stand debate:
Everything that you can do standing can pretty much be done while sitting … but … not everything you do while sitting can be done while standing.
A good example that articulates this quote is tuning multiple drums quickly. You need to be sitting to pull this off. But, be flexible, do what you have to do to make the music shine its brightest. Sometimes, in a piece, I’ll sit for some and stand for some….depending on the musical situation.
Or, if you’re too tall for your drums and sit, try putting the timpani on some blocks and live with standing for a while. I would say this is more of a statement for our younger players out there who might have not quite found their style yet. If you’re 40 and have sat all your life, suddenly trying to stand would be a pretty frustrating endeavor.
Nevertheless, each has its merits and drawbacks, but being open to both will give you the most flexibility, not to mention, it breaks up the monotony and adds a little spice and fun to your experience. So, either screw or unscrew your ass to that stool…what do you got to lose!