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Gong Mallets, Strikers & Specialized Mallets
Gongs are typically played with gong mallets, and sometimes with wooden beaters, bamboo or western style drum sticks. Mallets usually have heads which are covered in cloth, yarn or natural material. The size of the gong usually determines which type of striker a player will use. Gongs under 9 inches (and sometimes 10 inches) are played with mallets that have very small heads (approximate diameter of one inch [2.54 cm]), wooden beaters, bamboo sticks or the like. Gongs which are 10 inches -12 inches or larger are usually played with mallets. As the size of the gong increases so does the size of the mallet. However, sometimes a player chooses an atypical mallet size to produce a achieve a particular sound or effect.
All mallets are not equal. Indeed, different mallets produce significantly different tones and frequency range on a gong. Three major factors of a gong mallet which affecting the frequency range and tones, even the timbre, of the gong is the 1. material mallet head; 2. size are mallet head; and 3. weight of the mallet head. Accordingly, certain mallets sound best on certain gongs, but don't necessarily sound best on other gongs. The Mike Balter Gong Mallets produce outstanding tones on Chinese Gongs, Chau Gongs, Zodiac Gongs, Bao Gongs & other gongs they don't produce the best tones on Paiste Symphonic, Planet or Sound Creation Gongs.
Traditionally, one mallet is used per gong, however, playing with two mallets can be a lot of fun and effective for sound healing and music making. Every mallet size brings out a range of tones. The general rule is larger mallets bring out lower tones & smaller mallets bring out higher tones. So, if you have two mallets of different sizes, then you will get a greater range of tones from the gong than one mallet. And for this reason I like to use at least two different size mallets on most gongs, especially medium & large gongs. Medium gongs have a wide pallet of tones and large gongs have a huge pallet of tones, but if only one mallet size is used a portion of the pallet will be untapped.
Another good use for two or more mallets is when playing two or more gongs. Using a mallet in each hand enables one to play the gongs together and in melodic and/or rhythmic phrases. In short, playing with two mallets has it's place and many benefits.
In addition to traditional yarn covered mallets (Balter & Sabian mallets) and wool covered mallets like Paiste mallets, there are several non-traditional mallets, which gong players use. One popular and effective non-traditional mallets are made with Superballs. Yes, Superballs! The infamous bouncy balls. Ironically, Superball mallets are not typically used by bouncing them off the gong, but by rubbing & dragging them against the gong. Artdrum.com carries Mike Balter Superball mallets, which consist of a Superball attached to a stick. And Artdrum carries Friction Mallets, which consists of a flexible, rubber-coated cable, which has a large Superball attached to one end and a medium size Superball attached to the other end - yes, two Superballs on one mallet! And they are fun! The are especially effective on gongs that are 20 inches (50.8 cm) or larger. Aside from the main technique of rubbing, one can, indeed, also bounce, skip and probably find some other creative ways to use Superball mallets.
The following are various playing techniques for gonging!
Priming a gong enables it to begin vibrating. Priming is done by very lightly stroking the gong with one's mallet. Players will often prime the gong prior to the main stroke. Priming significantly enhances the sound of the main stroke. The priming stroke is meant to stimulate the gong and create vibrations that are nearly inaudible to an audience. Priming requires a sensitive touch and is one of the most challenging techniques for players.
Spinning is another fun technique with suspended gongs. A spin is accomplished by holding the gong by the rope and spinning (or twisting) the gong in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction until the rope is fully twisted. Then the gong is struck and released causing it to spin around and around while resonating simultaneously. This produces a warping-like sound. The larger the gong, the stronger the warping effect.
Striking the gong with a mallet is the most common way by which gongs are played. Yet there are several ways to use the mallet. The face of a gong can be organized into quadrants. Organizing the gong into sections such as North, south, east & west or into a clock can help one to learn where the sweetest and richest sounds are on the gong. Most gongs, such as the Pasite Gongs, Chau, Chinese, Wind, Symphonic, Tiger & Zodiac, have "sweet spots" upon them.
I tend to find that the center of the gong is not the sweetest spot. If you look at the gong as compass, then striking northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest are a good places to begin to search for the sweet spots; and often those locations are sweet spots. In short, you can bring out the depth of sound and create beautiful patterns by striking different areas of the gong.
The two most common stokes with traditional gong mallets are the Bounce (Direct) Stroke and the Swipe Stroke. The Bounce Stroke produces a percussive impact sound from the mallet striking and bouncing off the gong. I use the Bounce Stroke only selectively because I usually prefer to hear as little of the percussive impact as possible. However, I find the Bounce Stroke does not have a very large percussive impact when playing the very edges of medium & large Pasite Gongs and when played upon the face of some of the thin gongs, such as the Zodiac gong or medium Wind gongs.
In order to reduce the percussive impact of the mallet striking the gong and also to bring out the purest gong tones the Swipe Stroke is best. The Swipe Stroke is effective in getting, or keeping, the gong to vibrate while producing a minimum percussive impact sound from the mallet striking the gong. The arm movement for a Swipe Stroke can be small, medium or larges, depending on the volume and effect one wants to achieve. If you have already learned the Swipe Stroke, then with a little practice your will discover many effective ways to use it and enjoy the most beautiful and purest gong tones.
Additional ways to hit the gong include the muffled stroke, by which the mallet or one's hand remains on the gong while striking or after striking. I use Muffling to primarily to reduce the volume and to reduce the sustain. Another technique, which we don't recommend for all gongs because it can scratch them, is to tap the edge or face of a gong with a stick or mallet. I sometimes use a very light stick - about the weight and size of a chopstick - to produce some lovely sounds & effects. Used selectively a light stick can be fun & effective. Further, as noted above each mallet type and size brings out different pitches and harmonies of a gong; and, as also noted above, there are specialized mallets such as the Friction Mallets & the Super Rub Mallets, which create outstanding special effects.
One thing that gongs are great for is exploration. So, have fun exploring and you will discover amazing sounds and the amazingly rich inner world which sound and silence helps us experience. Enjoy the gonging!