Timbales with cowbell and traditional sticks
Timbales (pron.: //; also called pailas) are shallow single-headed drums with metal casing, invented in Cuba. They are shallower than single-headed tom-toms, and usually tuned much higher. The player (called a timbalero) uses a variety of stick strokes, rim shots, and rolls to produce a wide range of percussive expression during solos and at transitional sections of music, and usually plays the shells of the drum or auxiliary percussion such as a cowbell or cymbal to keep time in other parts of the song.
The shells are referred to as cáscara (the Spanish word for shell), which is also the name of a rhythmic pattern common in salsa music that is played on the shells of the timbales. The shells are usually made of metal, but some manufacturers offer shells of maple and other woods. The heads are light, and tuned fairly high for their size.
History of the term in Cuba 
The term timbal or timbales (pl.) has been used in Cuba for two quite different types of drum. In the first place, it was first used to describe the kettle drums used in the wind orchestras known as orquestas típicas. These were the same general type of drum used in military bands, perhaps slung either side of a horse, and in classical orchestras. These were, and are, played with mallets (sticks with large, soft, round heads). The timpani were replaced by pailas criollas, which were originally designed to be used by street bands. Pailas are always hit with straight batons that have no additional head. Hits are made on the top and on the metal sides. In a modern band the timbalero may also have a trap kit to switch to for certain numbers.
Thus the term timbales is ambiguous when referring to bands playing the danzón in the 1900–1930 period. If one does not have a photograph it is difficult to know which drum a band used.
Construction and evolution of instrument 
descended from timpani 
The timbales are a pair of "Cubanized" orchestral timpani, originally used in the nineteenth century Cuban music genre known as danzón. Bands that play danzónes are known as charangas or Orquesta típicas, and consist of flute, string instruments, and rhythm section. The orchestral timpani were gradually shrunken in size for easier portability, until the early twentieth century, when the modern timbale size was standardized. The timbales are mounted on a stand and played while standing. They are played with timbale sticks, which are straight drum sticks with no shoulder or head. The head diameters usually range from 12″ (30 cm) to 16″ (40 cm) with a pair normally differing in size by one inch (3 cm). As with the bongos, the smaller drum is the macho (male) and the larger the hembra (female), with the macho providing the sharper, attacking sounds.
Timbalitos or pailitas are small timbales with diameters of 6″ (15 cm), 8″ (20 cm), or 10″ (25 cm). The timbalitos are used to play the part of the bongos with sticks and are not used to play the traditional timbales part. Papaito and Manny Oquendo were masters at playing the bongó part on timbalitos. Timbalitos are sometimes incorporated into expanded timbales set-ups, or incorporated into drum kits.
Traditional use 
The basic timbales part for danzón is called the baqueteo. In the example below, the slashed noteheads indicate muted drum strokes, and the regular noteheads indicate open strokes. The danzón was the first written music to be based on the organizing principle of sub-Saharan African rhythm, known in Cuba as clave.
Timbale bell patterns 
During the mambo era of the 1940s, cowbells were mounted on the drums. The cowbells, or wood block may be mounted slightly above and between the two timbales a little further from the player. The following four timbale bell patterns are based on the folkloric rumba cáscara part. They are written in 3-2 clave sequence.
In the 1970s José Luis Quintana "Changuito" developed the technique of simultaneously playing timbale and bongo bell parts when he held the timbales chair in the songo band Los Van Van. The example below shows the combined bell patterns (written in a 2-3 clave sequence).
Due to the timbalero Tito Puente (among others), it is now acceptable for a player – especially a band leader, to use more than two timbales, and a great timbale solo is quite a spectacle. Puente was frequently seen in concerts, and on posters and album covers, with seven or eight timbales in one set. The timbales were occasionally expanded with drum kit pieces, such as a kick bass, or snare. By the late 1970s this became the norm in the genre known as songo. The great José Luis Quintana "Changuito" and others, brought rumba and funk influences into timbales playing. In the contemporary timba bands, many drummers use a timbales/drum kit hybrid. Calixto Oviedo uses this modern timba set-up, and is a master of expressing funk with a timbales sensibility.
Tipico style 
The original style of soloing on timbales is known as tipico ('typical'). Manny Oquendo (1931-2009) played timbale solos famous for their tastefully sparse, straight forward tipico phrasing. The following five measure excerpt is from a timbales solo by Oquendo on "Mambo." The clave pattern is written above for reference. Notice how the passage begins and ends by coinciding with the strokes of clave.
Rumba quinto rhythmic vocabulary 
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, some timbaleros ('timbales players'), particularly Tito Puente, began incorporating the rhythmic vocabulary of rumba quinto into their solos. The following excerpt is from a timbales solo by Willie Bobo on the jazz standard “Night in Tunisia” (1959). The excerpt begins with a typical quinto crossing phrase, which resolves in the third measure.
The short excerpt below is from a timbales by Manny Oquendo on "Cuba Linda" (1975). This is a quinto cross phrase that groups the regular duple pulses (sixteenth-notes) in sets of three.
Non-traditional use 
Drummer John Dolmayan of System of a Down is known for using two (6″ and 8″) mini timbales in his kit. Also, Bud Gaugh of Sublime and Long Beach Dub Allstars used a single, high pitched timbale on his drumkit to the left of his snare during his years with those bands. Bud used his timbale usually for accents and transitions, especially in the more reggae-influenced songs, but it is used exclusively in place of the snare on the song “Waiting for My Ruca” from 40 oz. to Freedom and Stand By Your Van. He has not used the timbale in his recent bands Eyes Adrift and Del Mar, possibly due to the lack of reggae influence in those bands. The Ohio University Marching 110's drum line features three sets of timbales in the place of quads or quints. They are one of the very few marching bands in the country to still employ timbales in their drum line. They also employ three sets of dual tom toms to play the lower lines that a quad or quint would cover.
Dave Mackintosh uses a pair of 8" diameter Attack Timbales 9" and 11" deep made by Meinl Percussion to produce a similar sound to a pair of octobans. Meinl also produce a set of Mini Timbales of traditional depth but 8" and 10" diameter, also suitable for drum kit usage.
Timbales solo performances 
- "Timbales Demonstration" (Manny Oquendo)
- "Timbales Solos" (Tito Puente)
- "Timbale Solo" (Changuito)
- "Marvin Diz (timbales) and Anthony Carrillo (bongos)"
Timbales can be heard in:
- Latin Jazz
- Merengue (played by the tamborero, or tambora player) not used
- Neo-Bossa Nova not Used
- Latin rock
- Rock steady not used as a main instrument
Other countless Latin genres feature the timbales, as they are constantly being incorporated into new styles of music.
Veteran players 
- Guillermo Barreto
- Tito Puente
- Amadito Valdés
- Manny Oquendo
- Pete Escovedo
- Orlando Marín
- Nicky Marrero
- Sheila E.
- Willie Bobo
- Ubaldo Nieto
- Roberto Pla
- Jose Luis Quintana "Changuito"
- Marc Quiñones
- Luisito Quintero
- Louie Ramirez
- Ray Romero
- Willie Rosario
- Jimmy Sabater
- Julian Silva
- Orestes Vilató
- Calixto Oviedo
- Eguie Castrillo
- Aníbal López
- Ralph Irizarri
- Lance Morgan
- Karl Perazzo from Santana
- Orovio, Helio 1981. Diccionario de la música cubana: biográfico y técnico. Entries for Paila criolla; Timbal criolla.
- see examples in Early Cuban bands.
- thicker than standard drumsticks, and not shaped: they are of uniform thickness along the length.
- Orovio, Helio 1981. Diccionario de la música cubana: biográfico y técnico. Entries for Paila criolla; Timbal criolla; Típica (orquesta); Charanga.
- Peñalosa, David (2010). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins p. 254. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
- Oviedo, Calixto (2011). "Beyond Salsa Percussion." Timba.com. http://www.timba.com/encyclopedia_pages/beyond-salsa-percussion
- "Mambo" Understanding Latin Rhythms (Patato, et al.) LP Ventures LPV-337-A (1974).
- Peñalosa, David (2010). "Mambo Timbales Solo Excerpt," The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins p. 200. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
- “Night in Tunisia” (4:49), Monterey Concerts (Cal Tjader) Prestige CD 24026-2 (1959).
- "Cuba Linda" (7:02), Concepts in Unity (Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino) K-Tel CD (1975).
- http://meinlpercussion.com/no_cache/percussion/meinl-percussion/timbales/action/show/Product/1323/#item1323 retrieved 28 February 2012
- http://meinlpercussion.com/no_cache/percussion/meinl-percussion/timbales/action/show/Product/513/ retrieved 29 February 2012