Basic Six-Mallet Exercises

The following information and excercies are excerpted from my forthcoming book on six-mallet technique.


General Directions and Notes

The following six-mallet exercises are designed to develop your technique using three mallets in each hand. It is assumed—and recommended—that you have a solid four-mallet technique or at least have some familiarity with a four-mallet grip before working on these exercises.

Although exercises are very useful for concentrated work on specific technical weaknesses, I do not recommend using them for the bulk of you practice. However, they will help save you time when practicing real music as well as make you much more flexible. If you have never used six mallets before, diligently practicing these exercises will decrease the amount if time it takes to learn music that uses six mallets.

Each of the following exercises is only given once, starting on middle `C'. It is very important that you practice each exercise in every major and minor key, and perhaps in other keys as well (octatonic, whole-tone, chromatic, etc.). Isolate the keys that are more difficult for the particular exercise(s) you are working on, and focus on them. When transposing to different keys, try transposing chromatically, by the “circle of fifths”, in fourths, etc. This will help prevent boredom.

Some keys may necessitate two technical maneuvers that are not often used (or necessary) in four-mallet playing:

  1. Playing on the outer edges of the bars
  2. Crossing some mallets over others (mallet ordering of 1, 3, 2 instead of 1, 2, 3, etc.)

Practice the exercises in both hands and in as many octaves as possible on your instrument. Begin by learning the exercises by practicing them hands-separate. When you can play each exercise hands-separate at a moderate tempo (e.g. quarter note = 80) you should try practicing the exercises hands-together. In general, whatever you do with one hand, do with the other hand: train yourself to be ambidextrous.

Begin practicing each exercise at the slowest tempo necessary (such as quarter note = 40) and gradually work up the speed to the fastest tempo possible (such as quarter note = 132). Make sure you remain relaxed and play accurately—do not miss notes. Practice these exercises at different dynamic levels as well—not all music is written in the mezzo-forte, forte range!

Feel free to also develop your own unique exercises. By doing this, you will strengthen your initiative, your ears and your ability to interpret music.

If you stop progressing on an exercise, stop practicing it and move on to a different one. Mixing up the exercises will prevent you from injuring yourself and becoming bored.

Exercises Nos. 1 – 4

These exercises are designed to gradually increase your interval distance between mallets with combinations of two and one mallets. Feel free to use existing four-mallet exercises for this purpose as well. The thirds in these exercises may be increased or decreased to other intervals (seconds, fourths, fifths, etc.) as necessary.

Exercises Nos. 5 – 6: Independence Exercises

These exercises can help develop your mallet independence in each hand. It is crucial that you remain relaxed at all times.

Exercise No. 7: One-Handed Roll Exercise

This exercise helps develop one-handed rolls with the outer mallets in each hand. (You could also practice rolling using the inner mallets. In theory, this seems like a useful technique, but in practice, it is quite difficult and probably not necessary.) The goal with this exercise is to eventually work the 32nd notes up to roll speed. Practice increasing the intervals from unisons up to the largest intervals possible—such as a 12th in the highest range—depending on your instrument, mallets and the range you are practicing in. When practicing the unison, you may find it easier to roll with one mallet on the edge of the bar and the other mallet in the center of the bar (or slightly off-center, depending on your preference, the instrument, etc.). Practice beginning the exercise at each transposition with both mallets at the same time or a different mallet, as this will decrease the chance of inadvertently metering the rolls and favoring one mallet over the other.

[January, 2007]

Download the exercises [PDF]