I am aware that there are 2 popular ways to hold 4 mallets while playing the marimba. There is Burton's and there is Steven's. I am not really even sure which grip I currently use, as I just started playing with 4 mallets. All I know is that one of them causes more pain on your fingers, which I believe is Steven's. Also, as I was talking to my private teacher, I found out that there is a separate grip for 4 mallet jazz vibes. Does anyone know the name for this and the pros/cons?


3 Answers 3


My answer will largely contain excerpts from Robert Breithaupt's book "The Complete Percussionist."

The Cross Grip is derived by crossing a second mallet over a single mallet, held in a traditional style. This grip creates stability within the grip, but does not provide for the independent control of the mallets needed for much advanced marimba literature.

The Burton Grip was developed by Gary Burton, and provides greater control of the inside mallets and a less cumbersome wrist motion for the outside mallets. Small and large intervals are created in the same manner as the cross grip. Single line melodies are often played with the inside mallet of the left hand and the outside mallet of the right hand. This grip is used by most vibraphonists.

The Musser Grip allows movement from one movement without corresponding movement from the other. This grip employs a hand positi8on similar to the matched grip snare drum grip.

The Stevens Grip positions the hand such that it is most similar to that of the American timpani grip / drum set ride cymbal grip (also known as the French grip.)

I included these explanations to help you determine which grip you currently employ. Grip preference is in part determined by what style of music you play and what performance practices you prefer individually. This is in part decided by not only your aesthetic / comfort preferences but also things you cannot change - like hand size for example.

I know that the Musser / Stevens grips are popular because of the increased flexibility. It allows for some very unique chord voicings (such as reaching a M10 in each hand!) but again, pros and cons are really contingent upon individual players.

The four grips presented above are the grips I am most familiar with and have learned myself, and if there is a fifth, it is either not well-known or well-accepted. If you have small hands, the Stevens or Musser grip might be causing you problems since they demand more independence. However, the pain you're experiencing could also be from poor practice technique.

At any rate, since you are taking private lessons, I would highly, highly suggest that you speak with your teacher about the concerns and grip types.

Hope that helps!


Neither grip should be painful, although Stevens requires a little more muscle development on the weak side of the hand which could cause some overuse strain when just starting out. The Burton grip is the 'jazz' grip. It was developed by jazz vibist Gary Burton.

I've found that the Stevens grip is better if you need to play lines that jump around a lot because you have substantially more control over individual mallets. An example of this might be playing fast arpeggios. If you are doing a lot of blocked chords and lines without a lot of jumping, the Burton grip is the way to go. It's more stable and allows you put a lot of power into your strokes. In general Burton grip forces you to use more macro movements(arms instead of fingers) to accomplish the strokes.

All that being said, in the long run the Stevens grip is the more flexible of the two, and you'd rarely catch an orchestral percussionist using Burton grip.

  • What are blocked chords? And can you upload pictures of them? Apr 6, 2013 at 3:58
  • @CodyGuldner: Block chords refers to a way of homophonically playing a musical line with four part harmony. This is often employed by jazz pianists and jazz vibraphonists in melody and solo playing, as well as being a standard tool in jazz arranging for wind instruments. May 13, 2013 at 22:25

I started off using the Stevens Technique, because that was the grip of choice by the person teaching me at the time. It seemed easy enough, so I used it for a few years. That being said, there's one that most call "traditional grip." That's the one to use, in my opinion. It's much easier for playing fast passages with the inner two, easier to open and close quickly, AND I personally find it more comfortable.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.