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What Are the Different Types of Percussion Mallets?

Liz Thomas
Liz Thomas

There are many different types of percussion mallets, but most fall within the broad categories of unwrapped and wrapped. Unwrapped mallets are usually the hardest, and are often little more than a firm object attached to a stick; some are wood, some are metal or nylon, but all are intended for a firm strike. These are best used on very durable instruments that won’t be damaged by raw edges or tough materials. Wrapped mallets, by contrast, tend to be a bit more muffled. There is a tremendous amount of variety when it comes to what mallets are wrapped with and how dense that wrapping is. Different instruments and players often have different specifications. Mallets of both varieties come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one is usually a matter of personal preference as well as things like instrument scale registry; in some cases, the size and weight of the mallet has more of an impact on the overall music produced than the wrapping does.

Mallet Basics

Marimba players usually use wrapped percussion mallets.
Marimba players usually use wrapped percussion mallets.

In general, a percussion mallet is any tool used to create sound by striking drums or other percussion instruments, and typically consists of head and a stick. The stick often resembles a standard drumstick and it can be made of many different materials, and the head is usually a firm sphere or rectangle that’s mounted on one end. Different mallets produce widely varying sounds. Some instruments come with mallets that are designed particularly for them, but in most cases musicians have to select these tools separately. Knowing some of most common options can make the process easier and can help get better results.

Unwrapped Examples

Unwrapped mallets are some of the most elemental. These have heads that are made of hard materials such as nylon, rubber or wood that are sanded to a smooth finish, but not wrapped or covered in anything that might dull their impact. They are used on instruments that are very durable and will not break or warp when being hit by a hard material. The xylophone and the glockenspiel are some of the most common examples.

Wrapped Models

Wrapped mallets are made on the same basic model as unwrapped versions, but the biggest difference is that the head has a little bit — or a lot, depending on the circumstances — of material covering it to dull the sound and cushion the impact with the instrument. Cord, yarn or latex are some of the most common coverings, though cloth and even dipped rubber can be used as well. These sorts of mallets are common for playing the vibraphone and marimba, instruments with softer keys that can be damaged if struck too hard. Wrapped versions can also be used to play the suspended cymbal.

Importance of Scale Registry

One of the most important things for people to consider when looking at the different types of percussion mallets is the register of the scale of their particular instrument. Mallets can alter the timbre, or quality of the sound. At lower registers, thicker and softer ones are usually best, whereas thinner and harder ones are more popular for higher registers.

Hardness and Weight Considerations

The hardness and weight of the mallet will also affect the contact sound. If the player desires very clear notes, such as staccato, then high contact with the instrument is usually something desirable. A legato or smooth sound is made by less contact. In general, softer versions produce less contact than their harder counterparts.

Overall quality of reverberations is also something many musicians consider. A heavier head will in most cases make a greater sound, while a lighter mallet will usually be considerably softer. When notes are intended to cut through all the rest of the instruments in a group, then a harder head is normally used. Similarly, a mallet that is soft but heavy can produce a very loud, full vibration.

Role of Individual Choice and Preference

Ultimately, the choice is highly dependent on the percussionist. As a musician progresses, he or she will learn new techniques, and choices sometimes change with time. Most musicians focus on the specific sound that is produced by mallets rather than the product brand names or general characteristics.

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Discussion Comments


@matthewc23 - I don't know if brushes would be considered mallets or drumsticks, but either way, I really like the sound, too. I think my favorites would have to be tympani mallets, though. Maybe that's just because I always like playing around with the timpani when I got a chance.

I have a nephew who is in 6th grade and plays the drums. Next year he will be going into junior high where the band starts to get a little more serious. I have seen percussion mallets sets for sale at the music store. I am wondering if that might be something worth buying him for a birthday present, or if it is even something he will need.

I know when I was in band, all the sticks and things were supplied, but it might be nice for him to have his own set. Does anyone have any opinions?


@cardsfan27 - That is a really good question. Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever heard of what they use to make bass drum mallets. They definitely aren't made out of yarn, wood, metal, or anything else the article mentions. They are sort of a foamy material, but I don't know what it would be. Maybe it is a metal or wood head that has some sort of a foam cover around it. I would be interested if anyone knows.

Also, do brushes count as being percussion mallets? If so, I think they would probably be my favorites. I always love listening to the sound a brush makes on a snare drum. Jazz music is probably the best place to listen to them being used.


@kentuckycat - Drum sticks are what you usually think of when you think of someone playing a drum set or something. Mallets are like drum sticks except, like the article says, have some sort of special head that isn't just a small wood tip.

As for the difference between soft and hard keys, something like a xylophone has metal bars that are hit and vibrate to make noise, and it is difficult for any type of head to damage the metal. As for the marimba, though, the keys are made from wood, so using a head that is too hard could put dents in the wood and alter how the bar vibrates.

Now that I've read through this article, what are bass drum mallets made from? I was always in band, and I've played around with bass drum mallets but never really stopped to think about what they're made of. Any ideas?


This might be a silly question, but what would be the difference between a mallet and something like drum sticks? I was never in band, and I always wondered that. I have heard people use both terms before. Are they maybe the same thing?

Also, what does the article mean by saying something like the marimba and vibraphone have softer keys and might be damaged by some harder types of mallets?

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    • Marimba players usually use wrapped percussion mallets.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Marimba players usually use wrapped percussion mallets.