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Guide to Percussion Instrument Stick & Mallet Choices

Take care of your percussion instruments while still getting the best sound!!
While there many different ways to play most percussion instruments, this list
shows the more common ways to play, and shows which mallets or sticks should never
be used on certain instruments for risk of damage. Modern literature is always finding
new ways to use percussion though, so don't be surprised if you see something not
mentioned or referenced on this sheet (or even something that completely goes against
these recommendations). Always think proactively and keep your instruments safe.
Instruments are listed here alphabetically. If you have questions please contact
Ryan Laney at RLaneyPerc@gmail.com.
Can Sometimes Use, NEVER Use (with rare
Instrument Should Generally Use...
When Called For... exception)...
Chime hammers, if they There aren't many other
Anvil (not Metal claw hammer, ball-
are sturdy enough to not things that will actually be
Brake Drum) pin hammer, brass mallets.
break when used. heard.
Anything metal, or
Soft-headed bass drum Timpani mallets, snare anything with a sharp tip
Bass Drum
mallet. drum sticks. that might dent or puncture
the head.
Triangle beaters, brass Sometimes rubber mallets Anything wooden or too
Bell Tree*
mallets on rare occasion. or plastic mallets. soft to be heard.
Snare sticks or yarn
Bongos** Forefingers. mallets (only when asked Anything metal or plastic.
Snare sticks, plastic
Brake Drum mallets, brass mallets, hard Hard yarn or cord mallets, Not much else can be
(not Anvil) yarn mallets if a more triangle beaters. heard on a brake drum.
gong-like tone is needed.
Fingertips if played on a Entire hand, if played with
Castanets Any sort of mallet or stick.
mounted set.. unmounted sets.
Chimes/ Plastic, synthetic, or Triangle beaters, if asked
Anything else.
Tubular Bells rawhide chime hammers. for in literature.
A pair of claves striking
Claves N/A Anything else.
each other, handheld.
Yarn mallets, thin wooden
Congas** Bare hands. Anything metal or plastic.
sticks (timbale sticks).
Cowbell Snare stick, timbale stick. Yarn mallet. Anything else.
Brass mallets, plastic Soft, medium, or hard Anything wooden, felt,
mallets. rubber mallets. yarn, or cord.
Can Sometimes Use, NEVER Use (with rare
Instrument Should Generally Use...
When Called For... exception)...
Sometimes a triangle
Finger A pair of finger cymbals beater or brass mallet
Anything else.
Cymbals striking each other. struck against a single
No mallet is necessary, as Occasionally flexatone is
Flexatone one or two strikers are bowed with a cello or bass Anything else.
usually attached. bow.
Glockenspiel/ Brass mallets, plastic Soft, medium, or hard Anything wooden, felt,
Bells mallets. rubber mallets. yarn, or cord.
Fairly hard and solid bass
Gong (definite Hard yarn or cord mallet, Avoid using metal, plastic,
drum-type beater, similar to
pitch) a marching bass mallet.
snare stick, triangle beater. or wood for loud attacks.

Snare drum sticks,

Rarely is anything else
Hi-Hat generally struck with the Hard yarn mallets.
ever needed.
shaft of the stick.
Never use plastic mallets,
anything wooden or
Handles of yarn mallets, metal, or any acrylic
Yarn mallets, usually with
Marimba very soft rubber mallets in mallets on a marimba! It
birch handles.
high register. is very easy to damage the
bars with anything but yarn
Rarely a triangle beater is
Mark Tree*
Bare hands/fingers. asked to play the Anything else.
(Wind Chimes) instrument.
Sandpaper Rub or strike them as a
N/A Anything else.
Blocks pair, one against the other.
Use a hand either in a fist
Sleigh Bells or flattened out to strike to N/A Anything else.
the top of the center stick.
Standard wooden drum
Snare Drum/ Timpani mallets, bare Any metal mallet/beater,
sticks, generally between a
Field Drum 5A and 2B size.
hands, brushes. keyboard mallets.

Soft or medium yarn

Suspended Hard yarn mallets, triangle
mallets, snare sticks when a Anything else.
Cymbal “ting” sound is needed.
beater or coin for scrapes.

Large bass drum beater,

Anything plastic. Do not
Tam-Tam (no triangle for scrapes,
Large, soft tam-tam beater. directly strike with heavy
definite pitch) sometimes snare sticks for
metal mallets.
Can Sometimes Use, NEVER Use (with rare
Instrument Should Generally Use...
When Called For... exception)...
Generally use fingertips for
regular taps, entire palm of Only use sticks or mallets
Tambourine Anything else.
hand for forceful notes can if requested in the music.
be used.
Shaken by hand, yarn Sometimes snare sticks or Not much else can be
Thunder Sheet
mallets. metal beaters. effectively used.
Bare hands, wooden
timpani mallets when
Timpani Felt timpani mallets. Anything else.
playing Baroque-era,
period-style pieces.
Anything metal or
Toms/Roto- Standard wooden drum Brushes, very soft yarn or
anything that might
toms sticks or felt mallets. felt mallets, bare hands.
puncture/dent the heads.
Triangle beater made of Shaft of snare stick
Hand, plastic mallet,
Triangle metal, around 1/8” in (usually only reserved for
anything yarn or cord.
diameter. advanced solo literature).
Plastic mallets, metal or
Cord mallets, usually with Yarn mallets, fingertips,
Vibraphone brass mallets, triangle
rattan handles. ends of rattan mallets.
Anything metal or plastic,
Hard yarn mallet, medium Tips of light snare sticks
Woodblocks/ or anything that could
or medium-hard rubber (for the “soft-shoe” effect,
Temple Blocks mallet.*** never loudly!).
possibly damage the
Hard yarn or cord mallets
Plastic mallets, hard rubber Anything metal, felt, or
Xylophone when a softer articulation
mallets. wooden.
is needed.

*It is becoming more and more common in contemporary literature to use a stick or mallet when
playing bongos or congas. Only use them if specified by the music, and generally avoid sticks or
mallets completely in a jazz band or chamber group setting.

**Remember that a bell tree is the instrument that looks like a stack of small brass cups, and a mark
tree is a suspended row of metal bars (often called wind chimes).

***Certain synthetic woodblocks, commonly called Jam Blocks, are designed to be hit with snare
sticks and will not break under normal use. Woodblocks made of actual wood, however, can break
easily if played with wooden sticks or any other hard beater.

R. Laney Percussion