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Dan Lidster received his BA in Music Education from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana in 1978 and his MM in Percussion Performance from the university of Michigan in 1980. Since that time, he has been active as a freelance musician, mallet manufacturer and handbell ringer in his church in Dallas, Texas.
Having been a percussionist for many years and having started manufacturing my own mallet line in the early 1980s, mallet technique and design hold particular interest to me. As a percussionist and a handbell ringer, I have observed some of the similarities between using mallets when playing percussion instruments and playing handbells - which by definition really are percussion instruments.
Keep arms relaxed. Like all good bell ringing, relaxation is the key to good tone quality. When malleting, relaxing the arm allows the tone to flow through the bell rather than being forced into the bell like a hammer striking a nail and producing a similar tone quality. Relaxation also protects the bell itself be lessening the impact of the strike.
Wave "bye-bye" and keep your wrist loose. A good way to think of proper malleting technique is simply waving "bye-bye." By gripping the mallet between the thumb and the first finger and moving the wrist in an up and down motion, you are on your way to correct malleting. Be sure to keep the wrist loose, but not floppy.
Keep a firm grip on the mallet - but not too tight. Percussionists use a tight grip on the mallet only to get a sharp, staccato sound out of the instrument. A looser grip allows the mallet to leave the bell surface quickly. If your knuckles are white, youre holding too tight.
Watch your playing area. Not all areas of the bell are created equal. Be careful not to mallet at the waist or shoulder of the bell, since this is the thinnest spot in the casting and has the most potential to damage the bell. As a rule, mallet toward the lip of the bell (where the clapper strikes).
Draw the sound out of t bell. When malleting, always think of drawing the sound out of the bell, not pushing the mallet into the bell. By pulling the sound out of the bell, you not only get a better tone, you reduce the amount of force on the bell itself. You can think of this as "following through" with your stroke. Just as a golfer follows through his stroke after he hits the ball, you must follow through with the mallet after you play the bell.
Lightly tap a suspended bell with the mallet before playing. In those rare cases where you will be holding a larger bell suspended and will be malleting, lightly tap the bell with the mallet first to start the bell vibrating. By doing this, you warm up the bell so the impact of the mallet is not such a shock to the bell. Plus you will decrease your response time; that time you mallet the bell to the time the bell begins to ring audibly.
I hope you find these tips useful in producing a better tone with your mallets, as well as protecting your bells from mallet abuse. A good bell malleted correctly should sound beautiful for a lifetime.
Resources for Ringing 1996