Mallet Musings

Handbell mallets: what do I need to know? How do I choose them? How many do I need? What’s the correct mallet technique for handbells?

What do I need to know?

 Percussion instruments, such as handbells, produce the best sound based upon the correct density (some say hardness) of the what is used to strike them, i.e. the clapper inside the bell or a mallet. Handbells have a range of clapper heads which vary in density and are used to affect the quality of sound by minimizing the 5th overtone in the series. The density of a mallet head is determined by the amount of yarn as well as the components inside the yarn head. Mallet heads may be wrapped around and around with single strands of yarn creating a ball or “head” of the mallet. Or, they may be crocheted using yarn which creates a cohesive multi-strand unit of yarn around the cork or rubber ball inside the head. Malmark’s yarn mallets are all crocheted in design because we feel they last longer and produce the desired quality of sound.

What should I look for in choosing mallets?

Another important feature of Malmark mallets is the shape of the mallet head: it is completely rounded with no hard edges protruding. Other brands of bass handbell mallets have a hard edge along the center  (it can sometimes be felt more than seen) which could contact the casting with too much force potentially damaging the casting. By design bass handbell castings are thinner in the center which makes them vulnerable to damage especially if the mallet has an edge: always aim the mallet close to the lip of the bell. TIP: Ringers should try to mallet bells on the outside of the casting in the same area the clapper strikes the casting on the inside.

So, how do you choose the appropriate mallet for each bell? You may take your bells to the percussion supplier or bring a set of mallets home to try on your bell set and choose the sound you prefer. OR leave the details to the experts at Malmark! Malmark has designed mallets produced by a leading mallet manufacturer which bring out the best in sound from each bell in your set. Like the clapper head of each bell, mallets of differing densities are needed to produce the clearest fundamental pitch of each bell. There may be times when the handbell musician wants to use a mallet one level up or down in density* but for general use our ranges will give you the clear, stopped sound you desire.

You may notice that Malmark’s bass mallets for handbells below C4 are designed with larger shafts to support the mallet head and to maintain balance in grip. This balance allows the player to remain relaxed rather than fighting against the weight of the mallet head at the end of a skinny shaft which can be found in other brands of mallets.

Ranges of mallets for handbells:

Mallets are designed to be used in “ranges.” So, there isn’t one mallet designed per bell but for a range of bells. This makes sense when you realize that handbell castings are also produced in ranges and individually tuned by removing metal for each desired pitch.

Also, you may notice that other brands of mallets offer quite a few more mallet options. If you’re really into, I mean REALLY into slight variations in tone for mallet techniques this may be for you. Most of us find that having too many mallet ranges just confuses our ringers more and doesn’t really make a significant difference. That’s why Malmark has designed mallets that will produce the clean sound in each range without having overlapping ranges of mallets in order to provide intermediary ranges. Also, buying more mallets = spending more of your $$$ unnecessarily.

How many mallets do I need?

Typically, handbell musicians use one mallet in each hand, just as a percussion player playing a marimba. This works because each ringer is usually responsible for 2 diatonic pitches or notes on the handbell keyboard. Beginning ringers may start with one mallet per ringer, but experts agree that starting with the proper mallet technique using one mallet in each hand is the best way to teach proper playing technique and to get the most musical result. Our chart will help you in deciding how may mallets you need:

What’s the technique for playing?

Percussion experts use a variety of grips and often prefer one grip over another based on the instrument or the music they are playing. For handbells, experts tell us that the proper grip involves holding the stick between the thumb and forefinger of each hand so that the mallet can move freely up and down with a relaxed grip, arm and shoulder. Accomplish this up and down motion by keeping the bottom 3 fingers loosely curved around the stick for supporting it as the mallet moves up and down. Your grip should be loose and relaxed with just those 2 fingers gripping the mallet. The placement of the thumb and forefinger should be about half-way down the shaft so that the mallet is balanced and doesn’t tip forward but is suspended in space. Handbell clinicians sometimes tell ringers to also bend slightly at the waist to get closer to the handbells when executing mallet playing as well as other special techniques.

The video at the "See More" link below has great information related to mallet playing in general and much of the information pertaining to the marimba also applies to handbell mallet playing. If you know of a good handbell mallet technique video, please email us and reference this Blog post:

I need help!

For more assistance in choosing or using mallets with your handbells, please contact one of Malmark’s Sales Representatives who are eager to assist you! If no one is in your area please contact our home office (800) HANDBEL or (800) 426-3235.

*Using a mallet that is too dense on a handbell could lead to damage of the casting; especially if incorrect technique is used. Malmark cannot be responsible for results of using a mallet other than those we design.

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