Defying Gravity - Part 1
[The next 3 posts will be for Gong players, just so you know]This post comes as a result of my Gong session at PASIC earlier this month. I ended up talking to people about grip and mallet technique. 1st, let me say that these are my ideas developed over years of playing. While I do have a lot of formal percussion training, playing Gongs is a whole other realm (BTW, I suck at mallet playing, like vibes, marimba, etc, so what I did at university in this area, besides the basic 4-mallet grip ideas, had very little affect on how I approached the Gongs). I've developed my grips with trial and error over time, and they are always fluid—things can change, so I remain flexible.
Those of you who are highly trained mallet players may look at this and say, "Big deal." Well, since a lot of people who are taking up Gongs have little or no formal percussion training, this IS a big deal to them. As with everything I do, I don't claim to be an expert or the last word. I just do what I do, what works for me and the music I make. Take from this series of articles what you want. Also, don't be afraid to comment or ask questions. I'm always glad to answer and might post further mallet/grip ideas based on any dialog.
Vertical vs Horizontal Motion
In playing Gongs, a lot of things change. Let's first look at the typical stick/mallet position and action playing drums/mallets/percussion.
For you drummers out there, try mounting a drum or practice pad vertically about 5-6 feet in the air. Then play on it while standing and notice the stick motion and how you have to adjust both your grip, and your hand/wrist/arm motion. Do this for a while and notice the fatigue from holding your arms up.
Just to be clear, this type of grip I use mostly on larger size Gongs (20" and up) in front of me where I'm playing a sustained sound, as in a single stroke roll, or single strokes themselves. It's a thumbs up grip much like a timpanist would use. If I have to reach and play a Gong to either side of me, the grip changes as my hand naturally rotates to having the thumb at the side and playing with more of a wrist stroke.
When I'm playing the tuned Gongs, I'm holding my hands between shoulder and head level, playing Gongs above me. I tend to use a more traditional thumbs to the side/palm down grip. In both cases there's a trade off: ease of stick/mallet movement vs having to hold your arms up for a prolonged time.
In part 2, we'll look at specific grips I use for different playing styles/mallets.