Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet. Timpani evolved from military drums to become a staple of the classical orchestra by the last third of the 18th century. Today, they are used in many types of musical ensembles including concert, marching, and even some rock bands.
Timpani is an Italian plural, the singular of which is timpano. However, in informal English speech a single instrument is rarely called a timpano: several are more typically referred to collectively as kettledrums, timpani, temple drums, or simply timps. They are also often incorrectly termed timpanis. A musician who plays the timpani is a timpanist.
First attested in English in the late 19th century, the Italian word timpani derives from the Latin tympanum (pl. tympani), which is the latinisation of the Greek word τύμπανον (tumpanon, pl. tumpana), "a hand drum", which in turn derives from the verb τύπτω (tuptō), meaning "to strike, to hit". Alternative spellings with y in place of either or both is—tympani, tympany, or timpany—are occasionally encountered in older English texts. Whilst the word timpani has been widely adopted in the English language, some English speakers choose to use the word kettledrums. The German word for timpani is Pauken; the French and Spanish is timbales. The Ashanti pair of talking drums are known as atumpan.