Timbales () or pailas are shallow single-headed drums with metal casing. 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.〔Orovio, Helio 1981. ''Diccionario de la música cubana: biográfico y técnico''. Entries for ''Paila criolla''; ''Timbal criollo''.〕
== Nomenclature ==
The term ''timbal'' or ''timbales'' (pl.) has been used in Cuba for two quite different types of drum. ''Timbales'' is the Spanish word for timpani (kettledrums), an instrument that was imported into Cuba in the 19th century and used by 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 (thicker than standard drumsticks, and not shaped: they are of uniform thickness along the length) 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 set to switch to for certain numbers.〔Orovio, Helio 1981. ''Diccionario de la música cubana: biográfico y técnico''. Entries for ''Paila criolla''; ''Timbal criolla''; ''Típica (orquesta)''; ''Charanga''.〕
Since the term ''timbales'' is used to refer to both timpani and pailas criollas, it 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.
In French, ''timbales'' () is also the word for timpani, thus the French refer to Cuban timbales as ''timbales latines''.
In Brazil, the term ''timbal'' refers to an unrelated drum.
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