It is inevitable that a percussion student in your band program will ask you about 4 mallet technique. University percussion method classes rarely take an in depth look into the mechanics and technique of this playing. If there is not a classically trained percussion teacher in your area, you may be the student’s only resource (besides YouTube (scary)). In this TotalPercussionist.com special, we will guide the non-percussionist band director into the realm of 4 mallet percussion and provide some resources for technique and beginning repertoire.
Traditional Grip (or Cross Grip)
The traditional grip is the oldest, and arguably the most natural way to hold 4 mallets. The shafts of the mallets simply cross 3/4 of the way down from the yarn head.
Before going on check out this wonderful guide on traditional grip by marimba virtuoso Nancy Zeltsman (via nancyzeltsman.com, Percussive Notes, 1995)
- It takes less time to be successful with this grip.
- Used by most professional orchestral percussionists.
- Good for any application.
- Standard technique book not available. The Nancy Zeltsman guide is the best resource I’ve found.
- Larger intervals are more difficult to reach. It would be very difficult to play an octave starting on the lowest C of a 5 octave instrument.
- Mallet independence is more difficult in early stages.
Steven’s Grip (or modified Musser Grip)
This contemporary grip created first by Clair Omar Musser and later tweaked by Leigh Howard Stevens has gained popularity in the past 20 years, especially in the DCI world. This grip feels unnatural at first, but allows for incredible mallet independence. Theoretically, when one mallet is moving the other should remain still.
The most popular resource for teaching this method is Leigh Howard Steven’s Method of Movement (also known as MOM in the percussion world). If a student rigorously read and followed the steps in this book, they could develop proper technique over time.
- Great Mallet Independence
- Larger intervals are reached effortlessly
- The book Method of Movement by Leigh Howard Stevens describes the technique in detail
- Awkward to learn at first (a friend once told me you shouldn’t have to read an encyclopedia to learn a grip. There’s some truth to that)
Beginning Intermediate Solos
Any brand/hardness of mallet will do, but remember the following is a good reference when purchasing mallets.
Traditional Grip = Rattan Shafts
Steven’s Grip = Birch Shafts
Wrapping up…(get it? Wrap…mallets…)
Here’s a quote from Nancy Zeltsman:
The most important considerations for which grip you choose are: (1) you can meet basic technical
challenges with it; (2) the grip feels good to you; and (3) you can
achieve every conceivable musical and tonal nuance with it.