Mallet instruments

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The Mallet


Different songs require different types of mallets. Here is a few.

  • Yarn/Cord Balls for use on xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone
  • Rubber Balls for use on xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, and sometimes vibraphone
  • Wooden Balls for use on xylophone
  • Brass/Aluminum Balls for use on glockenspiel and sometimes xylophone
  • Plastic Balls for use on xylophone and glockenspiel

The material used on the mallets makes different sounds. Yarn/Cord balls make a softer sound while harder materials makes a louder sound. The material is also important because if it is too hard, it can damage the instrument, and if it is too soft, it won't make a loud enough noise.

The Grip


Two Mallet Grip


Hold loosely on the mallet while still maintaining control, your thumb and the first knuckle of your index finger will create stability in the fulcrum

German Grip


Held "horizontally", ie. palm facing downwards, and strike downwards by bending wrist.

French Grip


Held "Vertically", ie. thumb facing up, and strike by twisting wrist.

American Grip


Between the German and French Grips, which the palm is facing about 45 to 30 degrees inside, and strike inwards by bending wrist.

Four Mallet Grip


Some pieces call for four mallets to play. This allows more tones to be played at once. There are two common techniques to playing with four mallets.

Burton Grip


The Burton grip is a method of holding two mallets in each hand in order to play a mallet percussion instrument, such as a marimba or a vibraphone, using 4 mallets at once.

It is formed as a variant of the cross grip, with the mallets held as follows:

The outside mallet is placed and crossed over the inside mallet. The end of the inside mallet is held with little finger, and outside mallet is held between index and middle finger. The thumb is generally placed inside the inside mallet, but it sometimes is placed between the mallets to widen the interval.

Musser-Stevens Grip


Musser-Stevens technique is another method of playing keyboard percussion instruments with four mallets.

The mallets are held hanging loosely, with the two outside mallets gripped with the pinky and ring fingers, and the inside mallets cantilevered between the flesh of the palm at the base of the thumb and the tip of the index finger. To change intervals, the inside mallet only is used. As the interval widens, the mallet rolls between the thumb and index finger such that the index finger moves from underneath to the side of the shaft, and the ring finger becomes the fulcrum of the cantilever. When properly used, this grip causes no tension on the hand muscles.

Single independent strokes are used to strike using only one of the four mallets. The mallet is propelled with a doorknob-like rotation of the wrist.

Six Mallet Grip


A Four Mallet Grip (whether crossed or uncrossed) can be extended to a Six Mallet Grip by placing the extra mallet to the right of the thumb (the left hand being used as an example). This mallet crosses under the mallet held by the thumb and index finger, and is held in place by the middle finger. This grip has the advantage of being fully independent, that is, any of the mallets can be played in combination with any other mallet. Earlier six mallet grips were not totally independent, being limited to basic variations on block chords.

The Stroke


When playing the marimba, the student should stay near the middle of the bar for the fullest tone. When this is not an option, the edge of the bar may also be used. The alternate position is near the end of the bar closest to the player. The stroke is a piston movement. Many philosophies of grip interpretation are still used, but the stroke is generally very relaxed to prevent the sound from being "choked".

The Notes


Notes on a mallet intrument are arranged the same as a piano, and it is the same on all instruments. This chart will explain the notes.

Western Literature


Needs more on Xylophone, Marimbaaa, and Vibraphone Literature and existing adaptations

Unfortunately, composers in the Western tradition did not write much for mallet instruments until the later Romantic era, and few before the 20th century took it seriously (by which is meant that they used it for more than special effect in orchestral pieces). Most self-respecting 20th century composers, of course, preferred to write thorny music -- not so easy to read and not so fun to listen to. This is reflected in their mallet literature. Therefore students with an interest in classical music and mallet instruments may be better served by reading adaptations of older works for other instruments (such as Bach for Bars) or practicing the interesting skill of adapting pieces themselves. For glockenspiels, violins aren't too bad to adapt because they both have the same low note, G (albeit in vastly different registers). Most violin pieces can be played with two stick method, using arpeggios to play more than two notes at once . Here is a list of violin pieces readily adaptable to glockenspiel, roughly in order of increasing difficulty:



Anonymous, "Johnny Cock Thy Beaver" [1]

Igor Stravinsky, Elegie for Violin/Viola Solo (This is easy to read by 20th Century standards)

Thomas Baltzar, "A Prelude for the Violin" [2]

J. S. Bach, Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (arranged for violin) [3]

(With greater difficulty one can also adapt the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin, available at the J. S. Bach page of the Werner Icking Music Archive)

H. I. F. von Biber, Passagalia from Rosenkranz Sonata [4]



Adi Morag, Octobones (on two 5-octave Marimba set face to face)