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Working Back into Mallets After a Long Break

Kevin Lucas • GoodVibesSeptember 2021 • September 7, 2021

All mallet players have gone through periods in their lives where they have a hiatus from mallets. Many of us have recently had one because of the pandemic. The question is how do we get back into a consistent routine after months after taking a break? I’m going to discuss this topic to help your students.

As a mallet player, it’s very easy to lose the approach to the instrument after time off. Here are some suggestions to rebuild your students’ playing.

Establish Proper Stroke

Even before your students start playing scales, it is important to establish the piston stroke once again. We do not strike a mallet instrument the way we do a drum. The mallet has to come off the instrument and pull the sound out. The “piston” stroke is named after the motion of a piston in an automobile. The best analogy I like to use is bouncing a basketball. You allow the ball the rebound up to your hand just as you allow the mallet to rebound off of the key.

Striking Position

It’s so important to review the basics after time off. One of these basics is making sure your students are striking the center of the bars whenever possible, and the edge of the accidentals during fast passages. 

Scales

Work in scales playing eight on a hand up every scale in the circle of fifths. Right hand should play on the way up the scale and left hand should play on the way down, focusing on proper grip, rebound, mallet and body position, and proper stroke. At this point, when the basics are reestablished, your students can play faster scale exercises in major and minor keys.

Basic Etudes

Your students should start with basic etudes and practice both sight reading and playing by memory. The latter is important so your students can establish muscle memory again. Here is a great etude book: innovativepercussion.com/products/12_etudes_for_2_mallet_marimba

Burton Four Mallet Grip

Basic exercises with the Burton cross grip should be implemented at this point, playing both linear lines and chords. Remember that when playing linear lines, the left-hand mallet position is at a 45-degree angle and wrist rotation is used to produce the stroke and the inner mallet plays the passages, whereas the right hand has the mallets at a 90-degree angle and the motion is vertical with the outside mallet playing the passages. The mallet that is not playing should remain as still as possible. Here is a great book for your students: steveweissmusic.com/product/introduction-to-jazz-vibes-gary-burton/mallet-books

Comp Chords

Have your students review chord comping and improvising using a jazz book. Playing along with recordings that come with the book is a great way to get back into the groove.

Steven’s Grip

All mallet players want to master both grips. They are completely different beasts and used in different styles of music. Having your students practice permutations and wrist rotation in this grip is very important at this point. Remind your students that this is not a cross grip and it is based on rotation technique. Here is another great book for your students: steveweissmusic.com/product/Stevens-Method-of-Movement/mallet-books

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. Kevin Lucas performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994 and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed second in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kevin-lucas_b_10960000

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