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Mallet Percussion Instruments

If you're in the process of learning a new instrument, or your child has come to you with a newfound instrument in mallet or "pit" percussion, these are some of the most enjoyable and rewarding instruments out there. Many of these instruments are fairly easy to pick up, especially with a little bit of piano experience, as the layout is the same as a standard piano or keyboard. In many cases, all you need is the instrument itself and a few pairs of mallets to begin an exciting musical journey.

What Types of Mallet Instruments Are There?

Perhaps the most famous mallet instrument of all is the xylophone, a word that's always a staple as you learn your ABCs. There are similar instruments to the xylophone that are considered mallet instruments––and yet, there are other percussion instruments that do not resemble the xylophone at all. Some mallet instruments include:

  • Marimba: Deep and sonorous, the marimba looks like a small piano with tube extensions (which is where the sound comes from). Players use either two or four mallets to hit the keys on this instrument. The tubes give the marimba its resonance.
  • Xylophone: Generally speaking, a xylophone looks almost just like a marimba, except there are no tubes underneath. This produces a more hollowed, "ping" sound.
  • Vibraphone (Vines): This instrument is quite similar to a marimba, but has less octaves. It also doesn't require you to "roll" the mallets. The vibes plug in, which helps give the instrument its resonance.
  • Bells (Glockenspiel): Often handheld, you use hard, glass or plastic mallets to play the bells. Similarly to the vibes, you do not need to roll the mallets. Instead, one clear hit makes a long tone.
  • Chimes (Standing Bells): The chimes stand upright, and the player hits each tube with a hammer to produce a long note, or several short notes in succession.
  • Tympani or Timpani drum: A drummer uses thick mallets to play this deep drum. This drum is different than other drums, as an attached pedal allows you to change the tone of the hit.

What Music Uses Mallets and Percussion Instruments?

As different genres of music often cross over, many types of music use these types of percussion instruments. However, there are a few more common types of music where you'll find marimba, xylophone, and other pit percussion instruments.

  • Orchestral music: Mallet percussion is a staple in all types of orchestra music. Most orchestras have a dedicated marimba, xylophone, and timpani player, as well as chimes and bells.
  • Marching band: While it's tough to march on the field with a marimba, pit percussion gets its name from a small "pit" at the side of the field where the drummers play their instruments. You may also find other instruments here, such a a cymbal, wind machine, gong, triangle, and others.
  • Rock music: It's not uncommon to hear a xylophone or another pit percussion instrument in a rock song.

What Accessories Will I Need for Pit Percussion?

Depending on the type of instrument you play, you may need some accompaniments or accessories:

  • Mallets: This is one must-have accessory for any type of these percussion instruments. Keep in mind that different instruments require different mallets. The hard mallets used to play the glockenspiel would easily damage a soft-wooded marimba.
  • Cover: As these instruments typically stand in a room, you may want a cover to keep out dust and dirt.
  • Case: If you use a percussion instrument that's portable, like the bells, you'll need a carrying case to take it with you.
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