Over the past 5-10 years, there has been an enormous growth in 4-mallet percussion at the high school level. Today's high school percussionists are playing literature with techniques that would only be heard at college recitals ten years ago. This is a great indication of the growth of this genre. I describe this occurrence as “the bar is being lowered” from an age level standpoint. The techniques have been around for more than 25 years, but the players attempting them are getting younger and younger.
With the rapid increase in popularity, there comes the possibility of students moving too quickly through the learning process. Over the past 5 years, I have given somewhere in the ballpark of 200-250 beginning 4-mallet clinics throughout North America. The most common problem I come across is seeing students playing with bad technique. To be more specific, students playing with too much tension. It is very easy for a young percussionist to develop physical problems such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel or pulled muscles and tendons if they play with a lot of tension.
For the past year or so I have been putting together a new method book that is based on my hands-on 4-mallet technique clinic. The book is entitled Simply Four; 4-Mallet Percussion as Easy as 1-2-3 (4) and will is available through Tap Space Publications. The book breaks down the Stevens and Burton grips step by step from (1) how to hold each mallet in your hand, (2) how to use the different basic strokes, (3) how to combine the strokes through the use of exercises and etudes and (4) how to develop your technique correctly.
The following article is based on the book.
THE STEVENS GRIP
This seems to be the most popular 4-mallet grip in North America. The grip was developed by the world-renowned marimbist Leigh Howard Stevens while he was a student at the Eastman School of Music back in the mid 1970's. In addition to being the most popular grip, it is also the most improperly played grip, and is the grip that can give young students the most physical problems when played incorrectly.
The following is a breakdown of how to correctly hold the mallets and the roles of each finger, the basic strokes, common problems with beginners and ways to fix them.
(Important Note: Wrist needs to be in a "handshaking" position with the thumb facing the ceiling.)
With any 4-mallet technique, the strokes can be boiled down to two choices: when both mallets in your hand play together (double-stop, double vertical) or when only one mallet plays (single independent, rotation stroke). All other types of strokes and combinations of strokes stem from these two possibilities. I like to use a catch phrase called wrist it or twist it.
and Pinky finger performing the stroke
twisting the wrist during the rotations
All of these problems and concerns need to be looked at with young percussionists. The most important "rule of thumb" is to have the student play as relaxed and comfortable as possible. The student only needs to control the mallets, not "death-grip" the mallets and have that industrial arts class approach to the instrument.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in dealing with 4-mallet percussion. For further information and details, look for Simply Four; 4-Mallet Percussion as Easy as 1-2-3 (4) at your local music store, or purchase a copy from Tap Space Publications online.
GIFFORD HOWARTH received his Bachelors of Music degree from Ithaca College and his Masters in Percussion Performance from Kent State University. His percussion studies include working with Gordon Stout, Ted Rounds, and Bill Molenhof. He is currently an Adjunct Professor/Artist in Residence at Penn State University in State College, PA along with being on the percussion faculty at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY.
Mr. Howarth is a very active recitalist, clinician, and masterclass teacher focusing on mallet percussion.
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