Burton Grip and Stevens Grip for Marimba

Kevin Lucas • GoodVibesNovember 2021 • November 12, 2021

I always encourage my students to be proficient in both the Stevens Grip and the Burton Grip. It’s a misconception that one grip is better than the other. They both have situations where one grip gives advantages, as well as different styles of music. Both grips are excellent choices in the right situations. It is apples and oranges. I’m going to discuss these situations and styles in this article for your students.

The Burton Grip
I always use the Burton Grip when I am playing jazz. Comping chords and playing linear lines is advantageous with this grip. It also provides power in a setting of a jazz ensemble because it is a cross grip and allows for use of the forearm for power.

“Four Mallet Studies” by Gary Burton

The Burton Grip is also great in a rock setting. I have been in this setting many times in my career. This style, similar to jazz, requires chords and linear lines and a lot of power. When one of your students is in a nightclub with loud people, being able to produce enough sound to project requires forearm movement.

This is also a reason why the venue is important when choosing which grip to use. A jazz club or a rock nightclub is going to be loud and will require projection, even with amplification. The Burton Grip is the best choice for these two types of venues.

The Burton Grip is a cross grip with the fourth finger anchoring down the outside mallet. The outside mallet is on top. The interval size is determined by the thumb and index finger moving the mallets. When playing linear lines, the right-hand mallets should be at a 90-degree angle, with the outside mallet playing the linear lines. The motion should be horizontal, similar to casting a fishing pole. The left-hand mallets should be at a 45-degree angle, with the inner mallet playing the linear line. The motion is a rotation of the wrist, similar to the rotation in a traditional grip on snare drum or turning a door knob. During linear runs, it is very important to keep the mallet that is not playing as still as possible. I recommend “Four Mallet Studies” by Gary Burton as a great resource.

The Stevens Grip
When I am playing classical marimba solos, I always use the Stevens Grip. It is a great grip for delicacy, intricacy, and rotations. The grip enables a lot of rotation of the wrist, which allows your students to play permutations and virtuosity utilizing all four mallets. It also allows for expanded intervals and a greater range of motion throughout the octaves. 

“Method of Movement for Marimba” by Leigh Howard Stevens

The best venues to use the Stevens grip would be places where audience members are quiet and the player can take advantage of the acoustics of the venue. Concert Halls, libraries, auditoriums, clinics, and many other similar settings where subtle nuances are part of the performance are best for this grip. 

The Stevens Grip is not a cross grip. The outside mallet should be between the third and fourth fingers on both hands. The inside mallet should rest on the index finger, with the thumb on top. The thumb and index fingers control the distance and intervals between both mallets. The hands should also be turned so the thumb is on top. Rotations and permutations are accomplished by wrist rotation from side to side. Permutations and different sticking patterns can help develop dexterity and speed, as well as one handed rolls. A great development resource for your students is “Method of Movement for Marimba” by Leigh Howard Stevens. 

[Editor’s note: “Method of Movement for Marimba” and “Four Mallet Studies” are available at steveweissmusic.com].

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker, and Tito Puente.” He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his Echoes in the Sand album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Lucas performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994, and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!