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© 2000 James Walker

Whether one plays mallet instruments with two mallets or four, it is an important but often overlooked issue:  what sticking is best for a particular passage?  While there usually is more than one solution for a given melodic line, there are factors which one should consider when creating stickings.

1.  Alternating Hands as a Starting Point

A good starting point for creating stickings is alternating hands.  The consistent "left-right-left..." pattern lends itself to even articulation and rhythm, whether leading with the left hand or the right.  When doubling in either hand, the tendency is for the second note of the doubling to be "ghosted" slightly, played at a lower volume than the first note.

2.  Adjusting Stickings to Suit the Rhythmic/Metric Phrasing

Players of brass instruments will utilize consistent tonguing when articulating similar passages, and this is a concept which may be applied to percussion instruments.  Consistency of sticking contributes greatly to consistency of sound and phrasing in these two examples:

ex. 1ex. 1

ex. 2ex. 2

3.  Accented Patterns or Polyphonic Textures

If a melodic line utilizes accents, or suggests some sort of polyphony (such as the pedal point shown in the second example here), one's sticking may be altered to suit the line; assigning all of the accented notes to one hand or the other makes it easier to maintain two separate dynamics levels within a phrase.  

ex. 3ex. 3

ex. 4ex. 4

(This sort of approach is recommended only if the physical execution of the phrase allows it, as in the examples shown here; the difficulty of applying this concept to lines which cross above and below each other may negate the benefits.)

4.  Optimizing Movement Around the Instrument

Certain scales and arpeggios lend themselves to playing all notes on the lower manual of the mallet instrument (same as the white keys of a piano) with one hand, and all notes on the upper manual (the black keys of a piano) with the other.  While this approach incorporates the challenge of executing double stickings evenly, that challenge is balanced against the minimized arm movement required to execute a line.  In the diagrams here, note how much less motion away from and towards the player's body, is involved when one utilizes this upper manual vs. lower manual approach.

"alternating sticking"

"upper manual vs. lower manual"

While there often is more than one acceptable sticking for a given passage, there are certain factors one should address when making these decisions.  Eventually, these concepts become internalized, and one instinctively selects an appropriate sticking for a given phrase.

For ideas regarding sticking options with four-mallet grips, please see the "Classical Techniques for Jazz Mallets" lesson on this website.

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