Defying Gravity - Part 3

Weapons of Mass Percussion

With a large Gong mallet on the larger Gongs, it's really all about having a secure grip in order to swing the heavier mallet. It's mostly wrist, with some arm. Primitive, but effective. The finesse comes in controlling the stroke and the contact with the Gong: you have to know your mallets, and your Gongs, to be able to judge how much stroke, and how hard to hit, in order to get the sound/volume you want. It's also about choosing the right mallet for the size Gongs, and the sound you want—don't play a 32" Gong with a timpani mallet and expect a big, full sound.

If you want a big sound, you need a big mallet

A big Gong is a lot of metal to get vibrating. One question I get asked a lot is about priming the Gong. Priming is getting the Gong moving slightly so that when you hit it, the sound will open up immediately. There are 3 primary ways to prime a Gong:

  1. Lightly tap it with your mallet near the edge.
  2. Lightly tap it with your hand/fist near the edge.
  3. Pluck the Gong cord holding it on the stand.

How you prime it has a lot to do with the size and type of Gong you are playing. If you have a 50" Gong, it may take a few taps around the circumference to get the Gong vibrating. With a smaller Gong, one tap should be sufficient, or plucking the cord may be enough to start the vibrations. Now if you are in the symphony, and resting for 200 measures, you have plenty of time to get ready, prime, then strike the Gong. But that's the symphony. 

Personally, I don't prime my Gongs because with the music I'm playing, I don't have time to. I'm also not hitting them that hard. If I crash a large Gong, it's usually medium to medium-loud, not, all hell breaks loose, hit it as hard as I can sort of thing. I will also start softly and build up to a fortissimo with multiple strokes. Another factor is that the Gongs tend to vibrate in sympathy with each other. So if I'm playing a composition using the large Gongs, once I start playing, all the Gongs start vibrating, so in essence they are priming themselves! Such are the advantages of playing your own music.

I want to go on record here to say that Gongs are plenty loud, there's really no need to hit them extra hard. If your Gong isn't loud enough, you need a larger Gong.

 Swinging the big mallet…

Again, the thumb is for control & leverage, while the last 3 fingers hold the mallet tight.

Multi-Mallet Grips

When playing the tuned Gong Play, I often use a traditional vibe/marimba crossed mallet grip where the inner mallet is the movable one. A big difference is that I'm usually holding a thin vibe mallet and a larger diameter Wind Gong mallet in the same hand. This makes for interesting control issues between the separate mallets. Sometimes the larger one is the inner mallet, sometimes the smaller one is. There's also the issue of mallet head weight. A Wind Gong mallet head weighs a lot more than say, a vibe mallet head. So this means I have to make a lot of adjustments depending on what mallets I'm using, and what Gongs I'm playing.

 Crossed mallet grip with the thumb controlling the mallet spread.

 Right hand: outer mallet over inner mallet.

Left hand: inner mallet over outer mallet.

As seen in the 2 photos above, I cross my mallets differently in each hand. No special reason, it just developed that way, probably because I have some nerve damage in my left arm from an injury, and for some reason the grip in the left hand feels more secure with the outer mallet under the inner one. While I studied mallets in high school and university (a story in itself), I'm mostly self taught when it comes to playing multi-mallets. Also, with my musical background, I tend to approach this more as a multi-percussionist than a mallet player. I might not win any awards for grip, but it works for me.

In closing, let me say that I keep things fluid, as the type of grip may change depending exactly on what I'm doing. There are always adjustments to make, as each Gong behaves and responds differently. So to, each type/size of mallet is different and may need a different technique in different situations. Use my ideas as a starting point, but develop what works for you, your music, and your instruments.

~ MB

Bang a Gong, Get it On…


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