Stick & Mallet Choices

Stick & Mallet ChoicesYounger Players

As a young person picks up a pair of sticks or mallets for the first time it is imperative that they suit the size of the players’ hands. Time after time you see youngsters trying to play with full size drum-corps sticks and mallets that are too heavy and unbalanced for the size of the player. You wouldn’t wear a pair of shoes that were several sizes too big, because you wouldn’t be able to walk correctly. So why make youngsters struggle with sticks and mallets that are too big?
There are several versions of drum corps snare drum sticks that have a junior version of the full size models. Vic Firth Ralphie Jr (SRHJR) is a scaled down version of the Ralph Hardimon SRH, perfect for the small hands of a young percussionist. Another choice would be the signature stick of the drum set player Thomas Lang (STL), though this is a drum set stick it is a similar size to the Ralphie Jr & is also white in colour.

As for the front ensemble and keyboard mallets you will find that a lot of Xylophone & Bell mallets are quite suitable for the younger player. The problem here comes with the Marimba & Vibraphone mallets that can be too long and a little heavy for younger players. You might want to look at Pro-Marks Fundamental range specifically designed for younger percussionists.

Things to consider

The main purpose of sticks & mallets is to produce a sound out of the instrument you are playing by moving air through the drum or down the resonator tubes of a keyboard. What you have to ask yourself is what type of sound you want to produce?

This relates to 4 factors:

  1. The type of music you’re playing.
  2. The projection needed for the environment you are playing in.
  3. The choice of sticks & mallets you use.
  4. The area of the instrument you’re playing on.

For Snare Drum

  • Full Size Marching Snare Sticks – These need to be durable and well weighted to move enough air through a marching snare drum. Generally these are the sticks you will use for the majority of your show so they need to be able to produce the maximum sound you require, full bodied with good articulation.
  • Piccolo Tip Sticks – Similar to full size sticks but with a smaller (Piccolo) tip, these are very useful for creating sounds in the higher timbre range but with slightly lower dynamic levels.
  • Rubber Tipped Sticks – Again these are the same as your full sized sticks, but for use at very low dynamic levels giving a fat sound with low attack. These are great for visually playing at full height but with a fraction of the sound. Also a great practice stick ensuring you won’t upset the neighbours.

Combine these stick choices with the different playing areas on a snare drum and you will find yourself with a huge range of sound.

For Tenors

Tenors can add a lot of colour in the mid range of your ensemble. Not only due to the fact you have four, five or even six different drum sounds, but by the amount of stick variations you can use.

  • Tenor Sticks – These give great articulation and a fast moving feel around the drums with good rim shot response.
  • Nylon Head Tenor Mallets – With curved nylon heads for a full bodied staccato sound for pulling big sounds out of the drums.
  • Hard Felt Tenor Mallets – A good choice for an intermediate mallet producing a slightly fatter full bodied warm sound with less attack.
  • Soft Fleece Tenor Mallet – For use in soft passages with virtually no attack and where a very low dynamic is needed.
  • Piccolo Tenor Stick – For emphasizing high pitch and timbre, also good for creating timbale style parts.

For Bass Drums

The first thing you need to understand is that you need to get the right size mallets for the bass drum sizes you have. The smaller the drum, the smaller the mallet head. If you use the wrong size mallet you will never get a balanced sound throughout the bass drum line. Remember this is also a very melodic part of your ensemble with each drum tuned to a different pitch, however you want to have an even projecting sound across all your bass drums.

  • Hard Felt Mallets – These are the mallets you will use for the majority of your show giving a full bodied sound with good articulation.
  • Soft Fleece Mallets – As with the tenors these are for use in soft passages with virtually no attack and where a very low dynamic is needed.

Front Ensemble Mallets

Wrapped Mallets – Choose outdoor mallets, the reasons are that they are made with synthetic yarn/cord and will give a longer life span than normal mallets. Being synthetic they will stand up better in poor weather conditions. The weight of the mallets is the next most important thing to consider, if you have light mallets they will produce a bright tone but without much depth of sound. A slightly heavier mallet will reach the fundamental rich tone of the instrument, especially useful when playing outdoors where you need the sound to project.

Common Mistakes – All too often wrong mallet choices are the main reason that the front ensemble doesn’t project or blend with the rest of the ensemble. Many people think that to produce more volume you need harder mallets (this may work in some instances on Xylophone & Bells with various unwrapped mallets) but this is not the case for Marimba & Vibraphone. Harder wrapped mallets on these instruments generally just produces more attack and though articulate will not necessarily produce more volume. Harder wrapped mallets are fine if you want the attack and articulation but are mainly used in the higher octave top half of the instrument. If you want the mid and lower octave parts to project more you need to look at well weighted medium and softer wrapped mallets. These will produce more of the rich fundamental tones of the instrument and resonate better at all dynamic levels.

General Guide

  • Soft Wrapped Mallets – Designed to produce low attack whilst giving a full-bodied tone across the lower register of the instrument.
  • Medium Wrapped Mallets – Designed to produce just enough attack and tone, works well across the whole range of the instrument.
  • Hard Wrapped Mallets – Designed to produce a strong attack giving excellent clarity in the middle to top register of the instrument.
    Shaft Choices – There are two main choices for the type of shafts
  • Birch (wood) shafts – A strong durable wood that flexes just enough giving great response and feel.
  • Rattan (bamboo) shafts – A more flexible shaft usually used for Vibraphone to absorb the shock of playing on metal notes.
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