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What Are the Different Types of Percussion Mallets?

Marimba players usually use wrapped percussion mallets.
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  • Written By: Liz Thomas
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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A percussion mallet is used to create sound by striking drums or other percussion instruments, and typically consists of head and a stick. The head can be made of many different materials, and may be wrapped or unwrapped. Different mallets produce widely varying sounds and the type chosen will vary depending on the register being played, the sound a player seeks to achieve, and the personal preference of a percussionist.

An unwrapped mallet will have a head that is made of hard materials such as nylon, rubber or wood. These are used on instruments that are very durable and will not break when being hit by a hard material. Some common instruments requiring the use of an unwrapped mallet include the xylophone and the glockenspiel.

Wrapped percussion mallets will have a hard head, like wrapped versions. The hard head is then wrapped in a soft material, normally cord, yarn or latex. These are commonly used to play the vibraphone and marimba, instruments with softer keys that can be damaged if played using unwrapped versions. Wrapped versions can also be used to play the suspended cymbal.

The type of mallet will depend on the register of the scale, as they alter the timbre, or quality of the sound. At lower registers, thicker and softer ones are used, whereas thinner and harder ones are used for higher registers. While these choices are typical, the actual choice use depends on the performer.

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The hardness and weight of percussion mallets will also affect the contact sound. If the player desires very clear notes, such as staccato, then high contact with the instrument is desired. A legato or smooth sound is made by less contact. In general, softer versions produce less contact than their harder counterparts.

Heaviness can relate to the produced sound. A heavier head will make a greater sound, and a lighter mallet makes considerably lighter sound. When a sound is intended to cut through all the rest of the instruments in a group, then a harder head is normally used. The sound produced from a harder head varies in other ways as well as from volume. A mallet that is soft but heavy can produce a very loud, full sound.

The choice of percussion mallets is highly dependent on the percussionist. As a musician progresses, he or she will learn new techniques, and choices may change. Most musicians focus on the sound that is produced by the mallets rather than the product brand names.

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Discuss this Article

Izzy78
Post 4

@matthewc23 - I don't know if brushes would be considered mallets or drumsticks, but either way, I really like the sound, too. I think my favorites would have to be tympani mallets, though. Maybe that's just because I always like playing around with the timpani when I got a chance.

I have a nephew who is in 6th grade and plays the drums. Next year he will be going into junior high where the band starts to get a little more serious. I have seen percussion mallets sets for sale at the music store. I am wondering if that might be something worth buying him for a birthday present, or if it is even something he will need.

I know when I was in band, all the sticks and things were supplied, but it might be nice for him to have his own set. Does anyone have any opinions?

matthewc23
Post 3

@cardsfan27 - That is a really good question. Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever heard of what they use to make bass drum mallets. They definitely aren't made out of yarn, wood, metal, or anything else the article mentions. They are sort of a foamy material, but I don't know what it would be. Maybe it is a metal or wood head that has some sort of a foam cover around it. I would be interested if anyone knows.

Also, do brushes count as being percussion mallets? If so, I think they would probably be my favorites. I always love listening to the sound a brush makes on a snare drum. Jazz music is probably the best place to listen to them being used.

cardsfan27
Post 2

@kentuckycat - Drum sticks are what you usually think of when you think of someone playing a drum set or something. Mallets are like drum sticks except, like the article says, have some sort of special head that isn't just a small wood tip.

As for the difference between soft and hard keys, something like a xylophone has metal bars that are hit and vibrate to make noise, and it is difficult for any type of head to damage the metal. As for the marimba, though, the keys are made from wood, so using a head that is too hard could put dents in the wood and alter how the bar vibrates.

Now that I've read through this article, what are bass drum mallets made from? I was always in band, and I've played around with bass drum mallets but never really stopped to think about what they're made of. Any ideas?

kentuckycat
Post 1

This might be a silly question, but what would be the difference between a mallet and something like drum sticks? I was never in band, and I always wondered that. I have heard people use both terms before. Are they maybe the same thing?

Also, what does the article mean by saying something like the marimba and vibraphone have softer keys and might be damaged by some harder types of mallets?

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