There are many different types of percussion mallets, but most fall within the broad categories of unwrapped and wrapped. Unwrapped mallets are usually the hardest, and are often little more than a firm object attached to a stick; some are wood, some are metal or nylon, but all are intended for a firm strike. These are best used on very durable instruments that won’t be damaged by raw edges or tough materials. Wrapped mallets, by contrast, tend to be a bit more muffled. There is a tremendous amount of variety when it comes to what mallets are wrapped with and how dense that wrapping is. Different instruments and players often have different specifications. Mallets of both varieties come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one is usually a matter of personal preference as well as things like instrument scale registry; in some cases, the size and weight of the mallet has more of an impact on the overall music produced than the wrapping does.
In general, a percussion mallet is any tool used to create sound by striking drums or other percussion instruments, and typically consists of head and a stick. The stick often resembles a standard drumstick and it can be made of many different materials, and the head is usually a firm sphere or rectangle that’s mounted on one end. Different mallets produce widely varying sounds. Some instruments come with mallets that are designed particularly for them, but in most cases musicians have to select these tools separately. Knowing some of most common options can make the process easier and can help get better results.
Unwrapped mallets are some of the most elemental. These have heads that are made of hard materials such as nylon, rubber or wood that are sanded to a smooth finish, but not wrapped or covered in anything that might dull their impact. They are used on instruments that are very durable and will not break or warp when being hit by a hard material. The xylophone and the glockenspiel are some of the most common examples.
Wrapped mallets are made on the same basic model as unwrapped versions, but the biggest difference is that the head has a little bit — or a lot, depending on the circumstances — of material covering it to dull the sound and cushion the impact with the instrument. Cord, yarn or latex are some of the most common coverings, though cloth and even dipped rubber can be used as well. These sorts of mallets are common for playing the vibraphone and marimba, instruments with softer keys that can be damaged if struck too hard. Wrapped versions can also be used to play the suspended cymbal.
Importance of Scale Registry
One of the most important things for people to consider when looking at the different types of percussion mallets is the register of the scale of their particular instrument. Mallets can alter the timbre, or quality of the sound. At lower registers, thicker and softer ones are usually best, whereas thinner and harder ones are more popular for higher registers.
Hardness and Weight Considerations
The hardness and weight of the mallet will also affect the contact sound. If the player desires very clear notes, such as staccato, then high contact with the instrument is usually something desirable. A legato or smooth sound is made by less contact. In general, softer versions produce less contact than their harder counterparts.
Overall quality of reverberations is also something many musicians consider. A heavier head will in most cases make a greater sound, while a lighter mallet will usually be considerably softer. When notes are intended to cut through all the rest of the instruments in a group, then a harder head is normally used. Similarly, a mallet that is soft but heavy can produce a very loud, full vibration.
Role of Individual Choice and Preference
Ultimately, the choice is highly dependent on the percussionist. As a musician progresses, he or she will learn new techniques, and choices sometimes change with time. Most musicians focus on the specific sound that is produced by mallets rather than the product brand names or general characteristics.