Roto-toms pitched or unpitched?

The VSL Percussion II library has 8. Roto-Toms which all can play 3 or more pitched notes. The high ones can be adjusted over a range of 10 halve steps. Overall the range of the 6 toms is more than 2 octaves. So why are these instruments considered unpitched ?

You can of course not play all of these notes as on a keyboard but that is the same on timpani which also have one pitch at the time. On the modern timpani you can change pitch with the pedal, the roto-toms can change pitch by rotating them. So very similar. So why are roto-toms considered unpitched?

Main reason for asking is that for unpitched percussion instruments you, logically, cannot activate a functioning treble or bass staff to enter the pitched notes. So you would have to enter all (29) playable pitches distributed correctly over 6 percussion maps, one for each tom. The highest with 10 different hits, the lowest 3.

A workaround to get a normal clef would be to define a new roto-tom (tuned) based on the timpani in the instrument pitched percussion instrument list and use an expression map for the techniques.

My own personal answer would be to look at it from the drummer’s perspective.

If they are arranged as part of a drumset on stage - I think what comes to the fore is how they’re best played with the rest of the cymbals , snare, etc. It is about their position in the kit and the patterns or fills that the drummer commonly uses. I think that they’re actually being thought of as Tom#3 and Tom#4 etc. (after tuning) with the actual pitch being irrelevant except maybe in a general way of high Tom, etc.

I think it’s the same thing only different if they are being worn by a marching percussionist, or played like Timbales or something.

I would use Dorico’s Percussion kit to map Tom’s in a given position to the desired pitch. JMO

I have seen roto-toms recommended as a way to extend the timpani sounds upward, so in that case it would help to have a way to notate them as pitched instruments.

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Thanks both that are indeed the two contextual options; tuning them once as part of a drum kit using a percussion clef or using them as timpani extension tuning them in accordance with the key signature. So for this you would need a timpani style score using a bass or treble key. The extension would only use the 8“ and 6“ roto-toms from B#3 -B4 (Dorico middle C). The highest notes sound more like a dampened cowbell than a drum however :smiley:

Small remaining issue is that the notation for the same techniques/articulations is different when using a percussion map and techniques in the instrument set up which uses mainly different noteheads and normal clef which uses markers/glyphs above the notes. Example a rim shot is often shown as crossed note from top right to bottom left in a percussion clef where a + above the note is used when using a normal clef. The playing techniques editor only supports text or glyphs no notehead based indication. So this could only be aligned manually.

Remo made pedal roto-toms a long time ago.


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Yes, his one has a pedal, as well. Remo made a video on them. Roto-toms are done now in my template one set with bass clef below the timpani and each one separate with percussion clef to add to a drum set. Only 60 more instruments to go :joy:

By chance there is a 51 minute YouTube video on the Drumeo channel on the revival of roto-toms. They also mention (in the first minutes of the video) the timpani like scoring option. There is a Facebook video (public) extract of the piece of Michael Tippett, The Rose Lake which uses 36 roto-toms with two players!.


Okay then! So many things I learn here.