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The decision of which drum mallet to choose depends on several variables, including the type of drum being played, whether hard or soft material is preferred for the head of the mallet, and the handle materials. The overall quality of sound desired, type of music played, and lifespan of drum mallet materials and construction are important considerations too. Drum mallets can be purchased or homemade. Tympani, marimba, and vibraphone players sometimes create their own drum mallets tailored to their own tastes. Commercially produced drum mallets have many different manufacturers, and a few specialize in drum mallets for specific instruments.
Drum mallets made for modern plastic-headed drums used in marching percussion and on drum-set drums usually have a wooden or metal handle that resembles a drumstick. Marching drum mallets and metal handled mallets may have additional grip materials like rubber or PVC. Mallet heads made out of felt are generally a medium hardness and can be made softer with cotton wrappings.
Rubber drum mallets are harder than felt and softer than plastic or wood, allowing for softer sounds when played at lower volumes and for staccato sounds when played louder. Plastic and wooden mallets are much like drumsticks in sound quality, with more potential volume and the ability to be heard in loud, multi-instrument ensembles and marching band percussion. The balance of the drum mallet depends on what instrument it is primarily used for and can be balanced for an individual’s style.
Tympani mallets are generally wooden handled and have a cotton-wrapped core of felt, wood, or plastic. There are many levels of softness to allow for sensitivity of the instrument. The softest of these is fluffy and resembles a giant cotton ball. Hardness in tympani mallets is usually established with felt or a felt-encased core of wood or plastic.
Keyboard mallets are the most varied mallets. These mallets have handles made of wood, fiberglass, or, more traditionally, rattan. The heads can be a simple round ball of various woods, metals, or plastics — all with different tonal qualities. Heads that are more intricate involve a yarn-wrapped core. Wrappings may be open or tight and thick or thin depending on the sound desired. Some drummers will use keyboard mallets on conventional drums for different textures of sound.
Drum mallets all sound different. Harder drum mallets can damage the drum head if played too hard. Softer, lighter mallets will break down with heavy use. If cared for, however, a drum mallet can last a lifetime.