Intro to Timbales

Intro to Timbales

Last month we discussed Afro-Cuban clave patterns. This month you will see how the clave is incorporated in patterns for the timbales. First lets get acquainted with the background of the instrument, then take a look at some main patterns, and last the players or timbaleros that have been influential.

Timbales are two metal drums that are mounted on a stand and played with cowbells and a woodblock. The drums do not have a bottom head, only batter heads. Timbales are played with sticks as well as some timekeeping done with a hand on the lower drum. You play the sides of the drums, cáscara, as well as the heads. The cowbells and woodblock are considered part of playing timbales also. The drums are two different sizes. They are usually 14″ and 15″ in diameter. You may also see some that are 13″ and 14″. The smaller drum is traditionally played on the player’s right and the low drum is on the player’s left. The small drum is called the macho and the large drum is called the hembra. These are the same names used for bongos as well. The timbales are also sometimes referred to as pailitas Cubanas. Timbales are related to the tympani. Tympani being the large kettle drums we know from traditional European classical music we hear from an orchestra. Timbales really became what we know of them today by the 1940’s or so.

The timbales are now seen in a variety of musical styles and played to suit that particular style. We are going to take a look at a cáscara pattern. Cáscara is playing the sides or shells of the drum. The following pattern on the top staff is played with the right hand with a stick on the shell of the macho (small drum). Placing the finger on the side of the stick to help push the stick into the shell of the drum in order to muffle the ringing sound, is the desired technique and sound. The lower staff below is played with the left hand (minus the stick) on the head of the hembra (large drum). The “M” is for a muffled tone. This tone is made by leaving the hand on the head as to not have the head vibrate and ring. The “O” is for an open tone. This tone is made by lifting the hand off the drum head right away to get the head to vibrate and ring.

There are several variations that have been made. Next we are going to take the cáscara pattern and play it on the large cowbell or Mambo bell. The cowbell should be mounted off of the rod on the stand in between the two drums. We are going to take the Son clave pattern and play it with the left hand on the clave block or woodblock. The block should be mounted off of the rod on the stand in between the two drums as well.

These are just a couple patterns that can be played. There are thousands of patterns and combinations. Some influential players to check out are Tito Puente, Jose Luis Quintana or “Changuito”, Willie Bobo, Orestes Vilató, Marc Quiñones, Sheila E., Alex Acuña, Luis Conte, and the list goes on. There are a lot of amazing players out there in the traditional Latin realm as well as in the pop world or other styles. Every player is talented in a different way and has their own style that makes them unique. Keep that in mind for yourself, be creative and most importantly, have fun!

– Meg Thomas

Meg Thomas Bio
Meg Thomas Headshot B-W 3.5MBDrummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, Latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum and Percussion Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions, performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases.

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