malletjazz.com FAQ pages

“Should I play four mallets or two mallets?”

I’m a big proponent of starting players out on two mallets when they are beginning their marimba or vibraphone studies. Two mallet playing is very intuitive, certainly compared to four-mallet technique, and this allows players to focus on other issues related to playing mallet instruments, such as developing a good sound, learning basic stroke technique, learning the arrangement of notes on the keyboard, etc. If you develop your four-mallet technique enough, you should be able to play any single-line melodies that you can play when holding only two mallets, and because of this, some players just don’t see the point of two-mallet technique. Personally, I use both from time to time - but two-mallet playing for me tends to be limited to either orchestral work, or pieces I learned originally with two mallets (such as the Creston Concertino movements I and III, xylophone rags, etc.)

I’ve heard many jazz mallet players claim that it’s easier to “swing” holding two mallets rather than four. If that works for you, great, but I don’t buy it. Swing comes from your internalized concept of time and your understanding of a good jazz “feel,” not from your hands or the number of mallets you’re holding. Make your musical decisions using your ears and your brain, not your hands.

- JW