Use of Mallets on Drums and Cymbals
Mallets are traditionally used by percussionists who play in orchestras and/or chamber groups. However, there is no reason why you can't incorporate them into drum set music. Mallets sound beautiful on cymbals and drums alike, especially when they are used to create dynamic swells or when they are used to add sustain and coloration to the music. Mallets tend to create an eerie aura around music and, in the appropriate setting, add natural tension and release to the music.
Mallets have little use on a snare drum when the strainer is turned on. However, a snare turned in the off position makes the drum much more mallet friendly. In this case, you can use mallets to roll on your snare and tom-toms; this makes the music rumble nicely. You can even use mallets to make the music become quite thunderous!
Mallets sound particularly nice on contemporary jazz ballads, and drummers such as Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Tony Williams have all used them very effectively in these environs. On a ballad, mallets can be used to foreshadow and elevate dramatic endings and other climaxes.
Rolling with Mallets
When rolling on drums and cymbals, mallets also fill up space in rubato, or free music. Rubato means that the music has no set tempo or even a pulse. Lastly, mallets sound great on tunes that call for “jungle” grooves. By using the mallets as you would your sticks, you can create hypnotic rhythms on your tom-toms.
Orchestral percussionists will tell you that you should never play double stroke rolls with mallets. You needn't be this strict when playing the drum set. Clean double stroke rolls on a snare drum or high tom-tom, for example, sound great.
When you roll on cymbals or lower-pitched tom-toms, however, you should use only a single-stroke sticking. When doing this, make sure you do not roll too fast. Low tom-toms and cymbals have a lot of sustain. If you roll too fast, you're liable to choke the sound. Instead, use a medium-speed sixteenth note pattern and listen to the sound you're creating. If you hear the sixteenth notes poking through a little bit, you're probably playing at the right speed. The sixteenths will quickly lose their definition as the sound floats out toward the listener. When playing single strokes at the right speed, a listener sitting only a few feet away will hear nothing but the smooth sustain of the drum or cymbal.
Don't Be Afraid to Experiment
Pick up a pair of medium-hard tympani mallets and try them out on your kit. See what colors and textures you can come up with. Also, listen for use of mallets on recordings and watch for drummers using them in live situations. Learning to use mallets is well worth your time, because mallets will open up your ears to the rich pallet of sounds available on your drum set.