Technique & Musicianship with Four Mallets: Introduction

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hi and welcome to this video series on

how to play for mel at marimba music my

name is David Skidmore this video series

accompanies my book of lessons in etudes

which is available at the link below in

this introductory lesson we'll talk

about what you need to know already to

take advantage of this video series

we'll be talking about how to hold for

mounts we'll be talking about how to

stand at the marimba with proper posture

we'll be talking about the seven

different stroke types with four mallet

and remember playing and we'll be

talking about what to expect from this

video series and the book that

accompanies in all of the exercises and

etudes in these lessons are written for

a four and a third octave low a marimba

and many of the exercises and etudes can

also be played on a smaller four octave

marimba let's clarify some terminology

before we get started when I'm referring

to my fingers throughout this entire

series I'll refer to them as my thumb

first finger middle finger ring finger

pinkie finger and the mallets I'll

always refer to low to high as one two

three and four so let's get started

talking about how to hold four mallets

there are three basic types of grips

when playing four mallets the Stevens

grip also known as the modified muster

grip the Burton grip and the traditional

grip and I should mention that all of

these grips work not only when you're

playing the marimba but also when you're

playing the vibraphone or any other

scenario where you need to hold four

mallets although I do talk about some

technical aspects of a specific grip

type throughout the series any of the

exercises in etudes in this entire

series can work with any of these three

grip types personally I don't feel that

one grip type is better than the other

however I've spent most of my career

using the Stephens grip so you'll see me

using the Stephens grip mostly

throughout this series however I've seen

some amazing performances with

percussionist using the traditional grip

or the bergen grip so work with your

teacher and find the grip that works

best for you

if you're completing this lesson series

without a private or classroom

percussion teacher I would recommend

that you use the Stevens grip simply

because that's what I'm going to be

using for most of the lessons so let's

talk about the Stevens grip this grip is

named for the incredible performer

composer and educator Lee Howard Stevens

start with the outside mount which rests

between the ring finger and middle

finger the ring finger and pinkie finger

curl around that outside mallet and the

mallet should balance between the fleshy

part of the heel of your hand and your

ring finger the inside mallet rests

between the thumb and first finger the

mallet shaft is very loosely held

between the pad of the thumb and the

first joint of the first finger the

mallet should balance between the fleshy

part under your thumb and your first

finger the hand should rest almost

perpendicular to the floor and the hands

should be completely relaxed when you're

holding the balance in a very relaxed

position both mallets are the same

distance above the keyboard try putting

your hand in the correct position

completely relaxing your hand and

resting the mallets on the marimba or

any flat surface will work this will

show you exactly how your hand should

look and how it should feel when playing

with this grip okay I'm not going to lie

this grip will feel pretty awkward the

first time that you try it out in your

hands but if you'll work on it the

payoff is really worth it because this

grip will give you a lot of control over

how wide the mallets are and the

intervals in your hand it'll give you a

lot of control over dynamics phrasing

and I'll give you a lot of control over

each of the seven different stroke types

that we're going to be talking about

throughout this video lesson series to

change intervals or the distance between

the mallets in your hand with a Stevens

grip roll the inside mallet between your

thumb and first finger

you can practice getting comfortable

holding the mallets or changing

intervals with this grip even when

you're away from the marimba all you

need is any flat surface like a table or

floor or a book if you're practicing

holding the mallets just rest them on

the surface you can do this while you're

studying or reading and if you're

practicing mallet changes I also

practice those with the mounts resting

on that flat surface so that you make

sure that the angle of the mounts stays

consistent next let's talk about the

Burton grip which is named for the

legendary jazz viral phone player Gary

Burton this is one of the two cross

grips so named because the mallets are

crossed in your hands start with one

mallet in your hand and a normal grip

like you would use for two mallet

percussion playing then take a second

mallet and insert it between your first

and middle finger with this new mallet

that you're inserting the outside mallet

on top of the first mallet which is the

inside mallet your pinky and ring finger

should curl around that first mallet the

inside myelin and your middle finger

should curl around both mallets and in a

relaxed position both mallet heads

should be equal distance above the

keyboard and the back of your hand is

almost parallel to the floor to make

intervals more narrow with the Burton

grip you do the exact opposite push the

mallet closer to your body with the

pinky and ring finger and pull it away

from your body with the first finger and

rotate your wrist while you're doing

that to maintain the orientation of the

mallets on the marimba bars

to practice changing intervals with a

burton grimm try scratching the palm of

your hand with your pinky and ring

finger you use the same motion and the

same types of muscles when you're doing

this as you would when you're changing

intervals with the Burton grip this grip

is fantastic for louder playing or

playing where you're not changing the

interval very often for instance I used

to script when I play the second

movement of murmur spiritual Biman or

Mickey I also find a grip really useful

when I'm playing marimba and another

instrument like for instance a drum

because there's a lot of stability when

you're using the Burton grip and the

third grip type is the traditional grip

which is the other cross grip there are

many advantages to traditional grips

similar to those with Burton grip

there's a lot of stability so that grip

works well on marimba as well as

vibraphone drums or any other percussion

instrument and many people also feel

that traditional grip is the easiest

grip to learn there are some incredible

percussionist who use the traditional

grip at least part of the time including

peter martyr third coast percussion

soloists effete stone off and the grip

is also very popular throughout Europe

and Asia I don't use traditional grip

myself so I won't be featuring it

throughout most of this video lesson

series however I did want to include

some basics on how to hold the mallets

and how to change intervals with this

grip so once again holding one mallet

just as you would if you were playing

two mallet keyboard percussion music

then take that second mallet and insert

it between the first and middle finger

but insert this new mallet underneath

the existing melon so that means my

outside mallet is going to be below my

inside mallet which is the opposite of

what I did for the burden grip I'm going

to wrap my pinky and ring finger as well

as my middle finger around both mallets

and to change intervals I'll push the

mallets apart with my thumb and first

finger or push them together with my

thumb and outside fingers

so note the differences between the

Burton grip and the traditional grip

with Burton grip my outside mallet is on

top of my inside mallet and my pinkie

and ring finger wrap around just the

inside mallet first we need to get the

marimba to an appropriate height so to

do that take a couple steps back from

the instrument with their hands very

relaxed at your side holding four

mallets make sure that your back is

comfortable that you're not slouching

and you're not standing sort of

awkwardly straight with tension in your

back and now bend your elbow so it's at

just a little bit over a 90 degree angle

and now walk back to the marimba and

your mouth should rest comfortably on

the instrument if not if it's too high

or too low adjust the height of the

instrument most modern marimbas have a

mechanism that will allow you to raise

or lower the height of your instrument

but if you're remember it doesn't have

one of those you can get PVC pipe cut to

a certain length that will make the

marimba the ideal height for you what

you'll do is set the wheel of your

marimba inside this PVC pipe so you want

to make sure that the pipe is an hour

enough that the marimba wheel will fit

into the PVC pipe without falling all

the way through and you'll want to make

sure that the pipe is wide enough that

the marimba is sturdy and that it won't

get knocked over while you're playing in

having your marimba at the proper height

is a really important first step because

if the room is too high or too low it

can have a negative impact on you as

you're trying to learn how to play the

instrument and you make it even caused

discomfort or pain over time another

really important thing to think about is

how far you're standing from the marimba

so to figure out where to stand we're

gonna once again take a couple steps

back with our hands relaxed at our sides

holding four mallets now bend your elbow

so it's once again at an angle that's

just above 90 degrees elbows are resting

comfortably by your body and then take a

step forward to the instrument and at

the point where your mallets are resting


ideal playing position just beyond the

resonator underneath the bars then

you'll be standing at the proper

distance from the marimba once again if

you're standing too close to the marimba

or too far from the marimba you could

over time develop this comfort or pain

while playing or it could just make it

harder for you to learn how to play the

instrument now let's talk about what

your feet should be doing while you're

playing when playing we're about

standing with your feet about shoulder

width apart or a little bit wider Center

your body between the lowest and highest

note that you're going to play if you

need to you can always lean so that your

body becomes centered on a different

area of the marimba without having to

take a step if you do need to take a

step while playing the marimba always

take a shuffle step so that means that

if I'm starting in a low register and

moving to the high register I'll take a

step with my right foot and my left foot

will immediately follow and land once

again at a distance of about

shoulder-width apart if I need to move

from the high register to the low

register I'll take a step with my left

foot and my right foot immediately

follows when you take a shuffle step

your body stays squarely faced towards

the marimba another type of step might

mean that your body's no longer centered

on the marimba or if you cross your legs

while stepping you're on the risk of

tripping yourself so take five seconds

before you play to make sure that your

feet are at a proper width that you're

standing the correct distance from the

remember that the remember is the

correct height if you do this every time

that you play then eventually it'll

become second nature and will be

something that you don't have to think

about anymore