As a reminder, the terminology utilized in installments of this series on four-mallet keyboard technique were codified in Leigh Howard Stevens’ book Method of Movement. If you haven’t yet read the first four articles, please check the archived articles in Rhythm! Scene.
Regardless of the grip or technique used, the terms used here for the four types of stroke motions — double vertical, single independent, single alternating, and double lateral — have become widely used. The double lateral stroke is considerably more advanced than the other stroke types and should not be attempted until the player has significant practical application experience with the other three strokes.
A DELIBERATE APPROACH
As mentioned in the previous articles in this series, when you are just starting out, perform these isolated strokes away from the keyboard: single iterations, out of time, on a floor, couch, or pillow. Once you can do the motion correctly without any breakdowns in the grip, try playing whole, half, quarter, and then eighth notes to a music track (whatever sort of music you enjoy listening to), still away from the keyboard. None of these individual strokes are particularly difficult to master, but it is important that you are able to execute each with proper grip and hand position. Allowing yourself to build muscle tone, comfort, and skill without worrying about note accuracy is an essential part of maintaining motivation and confidence with this new technique. Following are 16 double lateral stroke permutation exercises that can be used on a flat surface or utilizing any selected pitches on the keyboard.
Once you are ready to move onto a keyboard, focus on being able to maintain a comfortable, moderate interval between the mallets. Once you’re able to keep your grip steady and maintain accuracy for multiple strokes in rhythm, you’re ready to start moving around the keyboard. As with any percussion stroke technique, practice in front of a mirror to watch your motion and hand position, whether you are practicing on a pillow, the floor, or on a keyboard instrument.
The double lateral stroke combines the vertical stroke (double vertical) and rotational stroke motions. With the mallets up away from the keyboard, begin by pushing the mallets down in a double vertical motion. Approximately one-third to one-half of the way through the stroke, twist the wrist so that one mallet approaches and strikes the keyboard sooner than the other mallet; this will effectively create two equal notes from one motion. (Either mallet can strike first, depending on the music or preference of the performer.) The two notes performed in a double lateral stroke are not a flam. Regardless of how closely in sequence the notes sound, they should sound with the same volume. Their timing and the degree of separation will depend on how far apart in time the mallets strike, which can be controlled by how early in the stroke the wrist twists. The mallet pathway should resemble a narrow oval or loop as the mallets travel slightly side to side as they go up and down.
Start the double lateral stroke in a proper double vertical position: thumb on top, wrist low to keyboard, forefinger relaxed.
Keep the wrist low to the keyboard for the duration of the stroke; raising the wrist will cause the mallets to strike on the puffy ends, rather than the firmer sides, resulting in poor volume and quality of sound.
Make sure both mallets drop at the beginning of the stroke before the rotation kicks in. Trying to rotate the wrist from the top of the stroke can result in over-rotation, a flipping motion in the wrist, and missed notes.
Emily Tannert Patterson is a percussionist and online educator in Cambridge, UK. Previously she was a percussion educator, arranger, clinician, and consultant in the Austin, Texas area, serving as the percussion director at Rouse High School and Wiley Middle School, in Leander, Texas from 2015–18 and at East View High School, Georgetown, Texas from 2011–15. Her ensembles garnered numerous accolades, including winning the 2016 PAS IPEC. Patterson holds a master's degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied with Thomas Burritt and Tony Edwards. Patterson earned her bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Music Studies, along with an undergraduate Performance Certificate in Percussion and her Texas teaching certificate, from UT in 2008, and received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science from Northwestern University in 2004. Patterson marched with the Glassmen Drum and Bugle Corps in 2003 and was a member of the 2004 Winter Guard International world champion indoor drumline Music City Mystique. Prior to her move to the UK, she was active in judging around the country. Patterson holds professional memberships in the Texas Music Educators Association and the Percussive Arts Society and serves on the PAS Education Committee.
Josh Gottry is a respected educator, accomplished percussionist, and internationally recognized composer who has been working with and creating music for the next generation of percussionists for over twenty years. He has served on the music faculty at college and university campuses around the Phoenix metropolitan area, works regularly with ensembles and students at all grade levels as a clinician and within his private lesson studio, and his performance record includes professional orchestras, musical theater, worship teams, jazz combos, community and chamber ensembles, as well as solo performances and recitals. Gottry is an ASCAP award-winning composer whose works have been performed at colleges and universities, junior high and high schools, and multiple national conferences, and he serves as editor for Rhythm! Scene.