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A percussion mallet or beater is an object used to strike or beat a percussion instrument in order to produce its sound.
The term beater is slightly more general; A mallet is normally held in the hand while a beater may be foot or mechanically operated, for example in a bass drum pedal; drum stick is less general still, but still applied to a wide range of beaters. Some mallets, such as a triangle wand, are normally used only with a specific instrument, while others are used on many different instruments.
Some mallets, such as vibraphone mallets, are normally just called mallets, others have more specialised names including:
- Drum sticks, of many types, some used with a wide variety of instruments,.
- Wands used to strike a triangle.
- Rutes, used with many instruments.
- Brushes, used particularly with snare drum but also with many other instruments.
- Tippers used to strike a bodhrán.
- Hammers, also just called mallets or dongers, used with a xylophone.
- Bachi, used with Japanese taiko drums.
They are the most general-purpose beaters, and the term covers a wide variety of beaters, but they are mainly used for untuned percussion.
As well as being a general term for a hand-held beater, mallet is also used specifically to refer to a hand-held beater comprising a head connected to a thin shaft, and used in pairs. There are three main sorts:
- Unwrapped mallets, used on glockenspiel, xylophone and other instruments with keys made of durable material, have heads made of brass, rubber, nylon, acrylic, wood, or other hard materials.
- Wrapped mallets, mostly used on marimba, vibraphone and other instruments with softer keys (though they can be used on more durable instruments as well), have heads of kelon, rubber, nylon, acrylic or other medium-hard materials wrapped in softer materials like yarn, cord or latex. Wrapped mallets are also the mallets of choice to play suspended cymbal, though drum set players typically simply use drum sticks instead.
- Felt mallets or cartwheel mallets have heads composed of layers of felt, held between two steel washers. They are mainly used on untuned percussion, as well as on timpani, and in the context of kit drumming are referred to as soft sticks.
Different mallets are used primarily to alter the timbre of the mallet instrument being played. Generally, mallets composed of softer materials will stick to the instrument for longer as they bounce off of it, which gives a deeper sound made up of lower frequencies. Harder materials tend to bounce off quicker, and as they stick to the instrument for a shorter amount of time, they tend to be able to excite more of the higher frequencies, giving the sound a higher pitch with more overtones. Mallet choice is typically left up to the performer, though some compositions specify if a certain sound is desired by the composer.
Players frequently employ two mallets in a matched grip or four mallets in a four-mallet grip; however, use of up to six mallets is not uncommon. More than two mallets may be used even when no chords are called for by the composer so that the performer has a wider range of timbres from which to select or to facilitate performance of music that moves rapidly between high and low, and if hit properly can switch between the two pitches.
Brushes are a set of bristles connected to a handle so that the bristles make a rounded fan shape. They are often used in jazz or blues music, but also in other genres such as rock, country and pop. The bristles can be made of metal or plastic; the handles are commonly made of wood or aluminum, and are often coated with rubber. Some brushes are telescoping so that the bristles can be pulled inside a hollow handle and the fan made by the bristles can be of variable length, width and density. Retracting the bristles also protects the brush when it is not being used. The non-bristled end of the brush may end in a loop or a ball.
A rute or multi-rod consists of several thin sticks that are bound together to form one stick. Its sound is midway between a stick and a brush.
By dissipating much of the energy of the stroke within the stick, a rute allows a drummer to achieve both a tone and a playing action that would normally be associated with quite loud playing, but at a moderate or even low volume. The tone produced by many can be adjusted by adjusting the position of one of the bands holding the bundle together.