What’s in Your Mallet Bag?

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A photo of Adam Wiencken

It happens in almost every rehearsal; conductors and band directors request different sounds, colors, and timbres on our vast array of percussion accessories and mallet percussion instruments.

Keep in mind that several stick and mallet manufacturers sell products, so for our purposes, we will be speaking in generalities. Ideally, you would want to be able to hold the mallets in your hands and/or test them on an instrument before purchasing.

Be prepared for on-the-fly adjustments in your rehearsals by trying the following types of mallets. Always have two pairs of each mallet option.

For Marimba and Vibe

You’ll want to have at least two, if not three, options for marimba. Usually a medium/general mallet that sounds good on all registers of the instrument will work most of the time in a band and orchestra setting. Be sure to have other options to go softer or harder.

For Xylophone and Bells

Endless options exist for xylophone and bells; you’ll want to have several choices. Generally, favor options that can be played on either instrument. For example, brass mallets may be an option for bells or crotales, but not xylophone. You’ll want to have at least three varying levels of hardness for xylophone and bells, usually made from a hard rubber or acrylic material.

Consider that hard rubber mallets can also serve double duty on the upper range of the marimba. Hard acrylic can serve double duty on brake drum, Zil-Bell, and other metal accessories.

For Timpani

Three mallet options (soft-medium-hard) for timpani would serve most band purposes. Most timpani mallets are made from wood shafts although you may want to try bamboo shafts for select models.

Check the Mirror

Mallet choices create timbre changes. While sometimes the mallet you’ve chosen is a good one, you still may need to play with more (or less) articulation to project (or dampen) the sound. Assess your playing by practicing in front of a mirror.

Learn about various mallets here.

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Key Fluency

Advice for brass players from Chase Sanborn. From Halftime Magazine, a print and online publication about the marching arts.