The Burton Grip

18 Sep

After learning to play four mallets with the traditional grip, the American vibraphonist Gary Burton (1943 -), started as a teenager experimenting with ways of holding the mallets and came up with what is now known as the Burton grip. It is a cross-grip with the outer mallet above the inner mallet, i.e. just the opposite of the traditional grip. The inner mallet is held between the index finger and the thumb, and the outer mallet between index finger and middle finger.  At larger intervals the inner mallet goes under the thumb so that both index finger and thumb separate the mallets. It is today one of the most used grips and the basis for other grips such as the Extended cross-grip (Rosauro grip) and the Fulcrum grip (Saindon grip). The grip is described in several books and in the video The 4 Mallet (Burton) Grip at where Gary Burton himself tells the story about his grip.

Below are two images of the Burton grip. Just like the other images they show the grip at the interval of a fourth on an instrument with 48 mm center to center between the naturals and with mallets that are 435 mm long and mallet shafts of 8 mm in diameter.

The Mainieri Grip

7 Sep

After his studies with Lem Leach in the late 1940’s, the American vibraphonist Mike Mainieri (1938 -) started to make modifications to the Leach grip. These included holding the mallets nearer to the heads and gripping the inner mallet with the outer joint or the usual middle phalanx of the index finger instead of the outer phalanx. Holding the mallets nearer to the heads meant that the mallet shafts crossed each other under the wrist at many an interval larger than a second. With the new grip position and features he could start to manipulate the inner mallet lengtwise with thumb and index finger in order to reach the accidentals of the instrument without twisting his hand or arm. This is, according to Mainieri, a great advantage when it comes to playing chromatic passages.

Mainieri has plans on releasing an instructional video about his grip and its playing technique but they seem not to have materialized yet. There are very few percussionists using this grip and the inventor himself is the only famous example as far as I know. At the following address is a video with Mainieri in concert using his grip: In the images below the “diatonic position” of the Mainieri grip is demonstrated by my right hand.

The Leach Grip

31 Aug

The American musician and stamp collector Lem Leach became in the late 1940’s Mike Mainieri’s vibraphone teacher and it is through Mike that this grip is preserved. Also, it is this grip that is the basis for the Mainieri grip. If documentation is weak for most grips it is most likely non-existing for the Leach grip. Lem Leach was an alcoholic at the time Mike Mainieri (1938 -) started taking lessons from him and the instruction Leach gave was not very detailed. However the following description is based on what Mainieri wrote to me in an e-mail conversation about the grip in 2011.

The Leach grip is a non-cross grip with the inner mallet in the normal place between thumb and index finger. It is, though, held with the outer phalanxes of both fingers instead of the usual outer phalanx of the thumb and the middle phalanx of the index finger. The shaft-end is at the rear end of the palm and the middle finger is holding the shaft against the palm at the base of the thumb. The outer mallet is placed between the ring finger and the little finger and the little finger is wrapped around the shaft and assisted to stay in place by the ring finger. The outer mallet shaft is, like that of the inner mallet, held with its end at the rear end of the palm.

I am the only player I know of that is using this grip since Lem Leach. However, there is a picture in Mark Andreas Giesecke’s and Wessela Kostowa’s book Compendium der 4-Mallet-Techniken that is meant to depict the Mainieri grip but actually has more similarities with the Leach grip. Below are pictures of my right hand demonstrating the Leach grip.

The Musser Grip

19 Aug

The second oldest of the double-mallet grips, the Musser grip, was invented — probably in the 1920’s — by the famous American marimba and vibraphone virtuoso, composer, conductor, teacher and instrument manufacturer Clair Omar Musser (1901 – 1998). It is the first of the non-crossed or parallel grips. In this grip category the mallet shafts never touch each other. As with the traditional grip very little, if any, documentation of the grip existed until Peter Sadlo’s dissertation Die Kunst des Schlagens in 1994. However, Vida Chenoweth seems to have written an article in 1963 for the journal Percussion called 4-Mallet Technique which perhaps deals with the Musser grip. I have at this stage not been able to find more information about the article.

The Musser grip has the inner mallet between thumb and index finger, with the middle finger’s tip anchoring the shaft end to the palm at the base of the thumb. The outer mallet is held between the middle finger and the ring finger and is wrapped with ring finger and little finger; the shaft end may protrude from the palm or is held at the end of the palm.

Among famous players using the Musser grip are for example Joe Locke (1959 -) and Daniel Berg (1971 -).

At  is a picture of Clair Musser using his grip in his left hand. Below are two images of my right hand demonstrating it.

The Traditional Grip

12 Aug

The oldest of the double-mallet grips, the traditional grip, probably came about soon after the xylophone with the modern keyboard layout (instead of the older longitudinal trapezoid layout of e.g. Polish xylophone virtuoso Joseph Gusikov (1806 – 1837)) found its way into the orchestras around 1900. Very little, if any, documentation existed of the grip until German percussionist Peter Sadlo (1962 -) in 1994 completed his dissertation Die Kunst des Schlagens which describes and analyzes the traditional grip among others. The following year in August, American marimbist Nancy Zeltsman (1958 -) had the article Traditional Four-Mallet Grip published in the magazine Percussive Notes. In 2003, Peter Sadlo released his book Hauptsache Mallets which to some extent is a summary of certain parts of his dissertation, and that features a detailed description of the traditional grip together with also the Burton, the Musser and the Stevens grip. In the same year Zeltsman’s book Four-Mallet Marimba Playing came out that contains a comprehensive description of the traditional grip and its use.

The traditional grip is the only cross-grip that has the secondary, outer mallet, below the primary, inner mallet. There seems to be two versions of the grip where one, represented by Zeltsman, always has the thumb on top of the inner mallet, and another, which Sadlo represents, that lets the thumb grip the mallet shaft from the side at small intervals. The first version is the one used by Theodor Milkov in this YouTube video: The second version is mentioned in the Gary Burton (1943 -) video The 4 Mallet (Burton) Grip at

Among famous musicians that used or are using the traditional grip are for example Adrian Rollini (1903 – 1956) and Keiko Abe (1937 -).

Below are two images of my right hand demonstrating the traditional grip at the interval of a fourth on an instrument with 48 mm center to center between the naturals and with mallets that are 435 mm long and mallet shafts of 8 mm in diameter.


The ten double-mallet grips

1 Aug

Just like the ten commandments in the Bible there are ten double-mallet grips. However, you do not have to apply them all, especially not at the same time. It is, though, as a marimba or vibraphone beginner, good to learn at least some of them before deciding on one or maybe a few. I list them here with the oldest grip first:

  1. The Traditional grip (circa 1910?)
  2. The Musser grip (circa 1925?)
  3. The Leach grip (circa 1940?)
  4. The Mainieri grip (circa 1950)
  5. The Burton grip (1960)
  6. The Gordy grip (circa 1962)
  7. The Stevens grip (circa 1975)
  8. The Extended cross-grip or Rosauro grip (circa 1983)
  9. The Fulcrum grip or Saindon grip (2006?)
  10. The Johansson grip (2010)

Numbers 1, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 are cross-grips. Number 4 is both a cross-grip and a parallel grip. Numbers 2, 3 and 7 are parallel grips.

In my following posts I shall deal with each and every of the mentioned grips and include illustrations of me demonstrating them.

Hello world of percussionists!

31 Jul

Welcome to Doublemalletgrips. This is a web site about double-mallet grips used for playing musical instruments like the xylophone and especially the marimba and the vibraphone. Double-mallet grips are also known as four-mallet grips although the grips in question actually control only two mallets; the name “four-mallet grip” refers to the normal practice of using two mallets in each hand which gives a total number of four mallets.