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 previous articles in the series, please check for archived articles in Rhythm! Scene. In this particular article, we’ll be addressing application of the concepts presented in these articles.
The most obvious way to apply four-mallet technique is to use it for specific exercises and solos written for four-mallet keyboard percussion. However, you’ll make more progress if you apply what you’ve learned in all sorts of settings as frequently as possible. Sometimes that may mean (especially if you are a younger student in a school band program) that you’ll have to make some adaptations to material that isn’t specifically written for four mallets. (If you ARE a student, make sure to clear these changes with your director before you try these!)
The easiest way to apply four-mallet technique is in daily warm-ups. This also ensures you have a designated time to practice the techniques on a daily basis. You can play chords (or 5ths or 4ths) using double vertical or single alternating strokes during long tones, and you can play scales using single independent strokes. Band parts are a bit trickier to adapt. You can use inside mallets (and occasionally some outside mallets) to play parts originally written for two mallets, but your performance must still be perfect in tone, touch, balance, and accuracy.
The most appropriate and enriching outlet for application of your developed four-mallet technique is in solo performance. Consider what opportunities you might have for solo performance. An afternoon recital at a local nursing home, for example, would be a wonderful outreach opportunity for an appreciative audience, and a low-pressure performance opportunity for you. Some shopping malls allow for student performances in their large common spaces. Perhaps you can perform a solo between ensembles at a band concert, or if your band program does a solo and ensemble festival or solo recital event, use that as a chance to select a four-mallet solo.
Learning a keyboard solo, four-mallet or otherwise, allows you to play the primary role in the composition — something that is rare for a musician whose experience is mostly of playing band music — and to learn to shape, phrase, and present a melodic line (and often the accompaniment as well!). This is an invaluable experience. Since a majority of keyboard repertoire now requires the use of four mallets, developing and applying these skills allows you to access a much more diverse swathe of repertoire than you would otherwise be able to do.
Take advantage of the variety of resources available to help you select your first four-mallet solos. Publisher websites, reviews of new literature in Percussive Notes, band directors, and percussion instructors are all able to help you choose your solo wisely. Starting with a short solo or etude that addresses one or two stroke types at a time, or working out of one of the many etude collections that progress pedagogically from beginning to intermediate to advanced technique will allow you to refine your technique gradually and hopefully ensure success both musically and technically.
If you’ve thoroughly read and applied to tips we’ve presented thus far in this series, you are ready to tackle some four-mallet literature, and we hope you will! Best of luck in the continued development of this new technique skill set.
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 WGI 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 PAS 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 20 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.