Reprinted with permission from Percussive Notes, December 2008
The Fulcrum Grip is a four-mallet grip
for vibraphone and marimba that incorporates finger control along with wrist
and arm motion. I began experimenting
with the grip’s mechanism several years ago,
determined to achieve (while holding four mallets) the ease of execution in terms of control,
looseness, speed, and power of a two-mallet
player. The grip incorporates the use of fingers
via a hinge or fulcrum point as utilized by two-
mallet players and drummers.
Two-mallet players generally hold the mallets like a drummer playing with sticks. The
mallet is usually held between the thumb and
index finger (the fulcrum) while the other fingers are used to generate the movement of the
mallet as it moves into and out of the palm of
the hand. With the Fulcrum Grip, we are essentially employing the same fulcrum concept
while holding two mallets in each hand. With
this approach, the four-mallet player has the
best of both worlds: the dexterity and power
of a two-mallet player as well as the ability to
fully utilize all four mallets.
Essentially, the mallets are held very loosely
in the hand (using the Burton grip) while the
fingers are used to manipulate the stroke of the
mallets. The ends of the mallets come out of
the palm of the hand and are snapped back by
the fingers. Through the use of finger control,
the grip allows the four-mallet player to maximize the command of technique as it applies to
dynamics, speed, and power, while economizing
on arm and wrist motion. With this grip, the
player is also able to produce a full sound without unnecessary height in the mallet stroke.
Many four-mallet players favor the outside
mallet in the right hand and downplay the
inside mallet in terms of activity and volume.
A common reason for this is that the rotation
motion for the inside mallet is not best suited
for power and speed. Furthermore, the supinated forearm movement used in the stroke
of the inside mallets can lead to a variety of
wrist, elbow, and arm injuries. That being said,
it is important to point out that the Fulrum
Grip utilizes a downward-upward motion (as
opposed to rotation) with both inside mallets.
Think of the inside mallet being more of an
extension of the forearm.
There are two fulcrum points with this grip.
They are dependent upon the mallet spread. We’ll address the grip from both fulcrum
points. It is important to mention that in both
fulcrum points, the mallets come out of the
palm of the hand to allow for the snap motion
of the fingers. Keep in mind that holding the
mallets tightly in the hand without allowing
the mallet ends to leave the palm of the hand
will neutralize the use of finger control.
Small to Mid-Range Spread Fulcrum: The
fulcrum or hinge of the grip is between the
third finger and thumb. The key point of the
grip is that the tip of the third finger is held
to the side (towards the thumb side) of the
outside mallet in order to retain control of the
outside mallet and keep it in the palm of the
hand. The thumb and second finger are held in
a straight position. The third finger is used to
allow the inside mallet to come out of the hand
and then be snapped back. When playing the
outside mallet, the fourth finger is also used to
snap back the mallet into the palm of the hand.
As mentioned before, the inside mallet uses a
downward motion as if it were an extension of
the forearm. See Photos 1 and 2.
Mid-Range to Large Spread Fulcrum: The
fulcrum or hinge is between the thumb and
the first joint of the second finger, as if using
matched grip with drumsticks. With this grip,
the outside mallet is not held in the palm of
the hand by the third finger, but rather let go,
thus allowing the end of the outside mallet to
come out of the palm of the hand and be almost at a perpendicular angle with the forearm.
With the thumb and second fingers acting
as the hinge point, the third, fourth, and fifth
fingers are used to snap the inside mallet back
in the hand. The inside and outside mallets will
basically form a right triangle, with the outside
mallet almost perpendicular to the forearm.
When playing with the outside mallet, a pronated movement of the forearm is used. See
Photos 3, 4 5 and 6.
Work on playing melodies with all four mallets while changing the spreads (from small
range to wide range) of the mallets in each hand. This will necessitate alternating between
the two variations of the Fulcrum Grip’s hinge
point. Also, open and close the spread of the
mallets while making a smooth transition from
the two fulcrum points. It’s important that the
player switch smoothly and quickly from the
two different fulcrum points in order to use all
four mallets comfortably and efficiently.
This grip can also be used in playing very
full-sounding chords with a minimum of wrist
and arm motion. When playing a chord, the
mallets come out of the hand and are snapped
back into the palm by the fingers. Classical pianists can get an extremely full sound by keeping the fingers on the keys and pulling up with
the hands. This same principle can be applied
to playing mallet instruments. In this case,
the mallet heads are close to the bars and the
hand is pulled up with an upward wrist motion, while simultaneously snapping the mallet
with the fingers into the palm of the hand.
This technique can create a very full-sounding
stroke with relatively little effort and tension.
This allows the player the ability to produce
a very full sound with a minimum of mallet
height, arm, and wrist motion. Try executing a
variety of chord voicings (small and wide inter-
vals) using this method.
Another method used in creating a very full chordal sound is to allow the mallets to come
completely out of the palm of the hands and
be raised at a perpendicular angle to the bars.
Once the mallets are out of the hand and are
at a right angle with the bars, the mallets can
be snapped back in the hand (with or without
arm and wrist motion) for a full and powerful
If the player has the need to play with a bit
more volume and speed, use the Large Spread
Fulcrum and the inside mallets. With this
method, maximum mallet height is achieved
with minimum arm and wrist motion. It’s just
like playing with two mallets, with which the
player has the ultimate mallet height available without any unnecessary wrist or arm
movement. In this case, the outside mallets are
basically at a right angle with the inside mallets, whereby the inside mallets pivot off of the
From the French and German grips to the
Moeller technique, there are many variations
of grips when playing drums. All of these grip variations use different fulcrum points. There
are fulcrum points towards the front of the
hand between the thumb and index finger
versus fulcrum points towards the back of the
hand that employ the fourth finger. Consequently, there are many ways for the mallet
player to develop and experiment with mallet
grips that use finger control along with variations of fulcrum points. The key is in trying to
utilize finger control as a means of initiating
and controlling the mallet stroke in conjunction with the wrist and arm. Mallet percussionists are encouraged to try the Fulcrum Grip
and to experiment with their own variations of
For more information and and a demonstration of the Fulcrum Grip, try to catch Ed at
one of his upcoming clinics. His clinic schedule
is listed at www.myspace.com/edsaindon.
Visit Ed online at www.edsaindon.com