- 1 Mallet Percussion
- 2 The Mallet
- 3 The Grip
- 4 The Stroke
- 5 The Notes
- 6 Western Literature
- 7 Links
Mallet Percussion is a branch of instruments in the percussion family. It consists of instruments such as the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, chimes and crotales. Mallet instruments are played with one to six mallets, and occationally by bows of cello or bass. Mallet instruments are unique to wind instruments since they can produce more than one tone at a time.
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. Keys or bars (usually made of wood) are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys to aid the performer both visually and physically.
The concert marimba is pitched an octave lower than its cousin, the xylophone. Both xylophone and marimba bars are usually made of rosewood, but presently, synthetic substitutions are becoming more and more popular. Another material also being used to make marimbas is glass. The bars of the marimba are wider and thinner than those of the xylophone, especially at the center; this change in shape causes the bars to respond a different set of overtones found in the overtone series, giving the instrument a richer tone. In particular the first overtone is two octaves above the fundamental frequency of the key, whereas a xylophone key's first overtone is an octave and a fifth above the fundamental. The result is that a xylophone will have a much brighter and shorter sound and is played with relatively harder mallets than the mellower marimba, which is typically played using comparatively softer mallets. Also whereas the xylophone's key widths are constant along its entire length, modern marimba keys are usually short (both lengthwise and widthwise) at the higher-pitched end and gradually "graduate" into the bottom octaves. This ensures that larger marimbas, such as 5-octaves, have enough material to generate low notes and overtones.
The xylophone (from the Greek meaning 'wooden sound') is a musical instrument in the percussion family which probably originated in Indonesia. It consists of wooden bars of various lengths that are struck by a plastic, wooden, or rubber mallet. Each bar is tuned to a specific pitch of the chromatic scale. The arrangement of the bars is similar to the layout of the piano keyboard.
The xylophone has a brighter tone than its cousin the marimba, and the notes have less sustain. Modern xylophones include resonating tubes below the bars.
The vibraphone, sometimes called the vibraharp or simply the vibes, is a musical instrument in the percussion family.
It is similar in appearance to the xylophone, although the vibraphone uses metal bars instead of the wooden bars on the xylophone. The standard modern instrument has a range of three octaves, from the F below middle C. Larger four octave models from the C below middle C are also becoming more common. The vibraphone is commonly played with cord or yarn mallets.Below each bar is a resonator, a resonant metal tube, with a metal disc of a slightly smallerdiameter located at the top. The discs in each tube are connected via a rod which can be made to rotate with an electric motor. When the motor is on and a note is struck, the notes acquire a tremolo sound as the resonators are covered and uncovered by the rotating discs. The player can vary the speed of the tremolo. At slower speeds, the effect sounds more like a "wah-wah-wah." At faster speeds the tremolo is more pronounced. With the motor off vibraphone has a mellow, bell-like sound. The "vibrato" sound effect is what the vibraphne was named after. Because the amplitude is what varies, not the pitch, the name of the instrument is somewhat of a misnomer. The sound is dated and many modern vibists eschew the effect altogether.
The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal similar to that used on a piano. When the pedal is up, the bars are all damped and the sound of each bar is quite short; with the pedal down, they will sound for several seconds, so frequent rapid pedalling is common when playing a vibraphone.
The vibraphone was invented in the United States in 1921. It has a long history as a jazz instrument. However, the vibraphone has since been used in many other musical idioms, including popular music.
The Glockenspiel (bells)
The Glockenspiel (German, "play of bells", also known as orchestra bells and, in its portable form, bell lyra or bell lyre) is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It is similar to the xylophone, in that it has tuned bars laid out in a fashion resembling a piano keyboard. The xylophone's bars are wooden, while the glockenspiel's are metal, thus making it a metallophone.
The glockenspiel, moreover, is much smaller and higher in pitch. When used in a marching or military band, the bars are sometimes mounted in a portable case and held vertically. In orchestral use, the bars are mounted horizontally. A pair of hard mallets are generally used to strike the bars, although if laid out horizontally, a keyboard may be attached to the instrument to allow chords to be more easily played.
The glockenspiel's range is limited to the upper register, and usually covers about two and a half to three octaves. In sheet music, the notes to be played by the glockenspiel are written two octaves lower than they will sound when played. When struck, the bars give a very pure, bell-like sound.
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.
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
Held "horizontally", ie. palm facing downwards, and strike downwards by bending wrist.
Held "Vertically", ie. thumb facing up, and strike by twisting wrist.
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.
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 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.
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".
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.
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" 
Igor Stravinsky, Elegie for Violin/Viola Solo (This is easy to read by 20th Century standards)
Thomas Baltzar, "A Prelude for the Violin" 
J. S. Bach, Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (arranged for violin) 
(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 
Adi Morag, Octobones (on two 5-octave Marimba set face to face)
- Mallet Percussion at Wikipedia
- Marimba at Wikipedia
- Xylophone at Wikipedia
- Vibraphone at Wikipedia
- Chimes at Wikipedia
- Glockenspiel at Wikipedia