More Gongs or More Mallets?

Today is another blog post inspired by a Facebook forum thread (Facebook is actually good for some things besides cat videos, like ideas and inspiration). 

Part 1

The first part of today's blog looks at the question: 

How many Gongs should I have? Or to be more specific, do I need to get more Gongs?

There's no easy answer to this. Good Gongs are expensive, so having the money to buy more may be a factor in building up your collection. But even if you are rich, should you just buy more Gongs? My answer would be, no. Yes, I know that I own what many people would say is way too many Gongs, so why would I say this? Let me explain.

As a drummer, I've had this same discussion about having a large drum set vs a small 4-piece one. My answer is the same: 

What is the concept that you have in your mind for the music you are making?

This is important. Each of us is different and we approach the music we make in our own way. I know that for me, I always have a concept for whatever musical project I'm involved in, and it's no different for my Gong Sessions. To me, it doesn't matter whether you have 1 or 100 Gongs. What matters is that you have a concept on how to use them to create the music you have in your mind.

I've heard people do amazing things with 1 or 2 Gongs. I've heard others do amazing things with a whole room full of them. 

What are you hearing in your own mind?

I've always heard certain sounds in my head and actively worked to find those sounds in my instruments. Sometimes I hear a sound that nothing I own makes, so I go searching for an instrument that can make that sound. Along the way, I also learn how to create a wealth of sounds from the instruments I do have.

You don't just buy a Gong, play it for a week/month/year, and exhaust all the sound potential in it. I play Gongs that I've had for 20 or more years and still find new sounds in them. It's an endless process of exploring. 

One important thing is the need to practice your craft. Don't just play your Gongs at your gigs/sessions. They are musical instruments, no different that the piano, guitar, or violin, and you need to practice them, work with them, learn how to make the sounds that you want.

When I get new instruments, I usually work with them for weeks/months before I even play them in a concert or session. I play them in my studio all the time. I play. I listen. I find the sounds they can make and engrave them into my mind, so that when I take them out to a gig/session, I know what to expect and how to get the sounds that I want out of them. None of this is by accident—I work hard with all my instruments.

For example, I have some new bells and Gongs that I bought last summer and have finally found the time to set them up and work with them. Every time I'm in my studio, I play them. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I'm always listening to the sounds that they make and thinking about how those sounds can fit into my sound that I create with my set up.

1 Gong? 2? More?

The best thing is to start with one Gong and work for a while with all the different sound possibilities you can discover. After a time you may hear different sounds in your mind and think to yourself, “I like what I'm hearing, but there are still some sounds I hear in my mind that I am not getting.” This may be a time to add a second Gong that has different sound characteristics. For example, If you have a Symphonic or Chau Gong, you may want to add a Wind or Sun Gong to give you a different voice to work with.

My one rule when buying a new Gong/bowl/bell/etc. is: 

Do I hear any sonic possibilities in this instrument that I can use in what I do? 

I've tried out a lot of great instruments that I passed on, because they didn't fit in with what I hear in my head. I also have instruments that work great for one thing, but not another. I always follow what I hear in my mind/soul/spirit.

Part 2

The best advice I got from one of my drum teachers was, 
If you want to change your sound,  
change your sticks/mallets/brushes. 
This is simple enough, but it can make a great difference. So another aspect of all this is:

Before you run out and buy another Gong, buy some different mallets to use on the Gong you already have.

I often see people with 1 Gong using maybe 2 different mallets: a big padded one and a small padded one. By only using these, they are limiting themselves to a very minimal sound pallet. I would advise people to have maybe 5 different types of mallets to start with: 

  1. A large padded mallet (appropriate for the Gong's size).
  2. A smaller padded mallet.
  3. A pair of yarn wound Wind Gong mallets or extra soft marimba mallets.
  4. A pair of soft yarn wound marimba mallets.
  5. A pair of medium or medium hard yarn wound marimba mallets.
The 5 basic Mallets

These will give you a very wide spectrum of sounds on most Gongs. The larger padded ones will bring out both the fullness and the low end. As the yarn mallets get increasingly harder, they will bring out more high tones/frequencies. If you play with a different mallet in each hand, you have more sound options available.

Additional mallets for further exploration:
  1. A pair of rollers of some type.
  2. A pair of soft cord wound vibe mallets (harder than a marimba mallet).
  3. A pair of soft rubber mallets.
  4. Assorted friction mallets/Flumi.

The 4 Additional Mallet Types.

These are just my basic suggestions as a place to start. There are hundreds of different mallet types out there to choose from. Don't be afraid to try something that looks interesting to you. 

You can also experiment with making your own mallets. I've been making percussion mallets for 45 years. The 2 large Flumi pictured above are some that I have made. You can find a tutorial for making them on my website here.

You can never have too many mallets.

Keep exploring. 
~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

* A quick disclaimer: Since this is my blog, it is also my opinions. You are of course free to believe whatever you want and to use whatever ideas work for you. I do.

Over the past 9 years and 3 different blogs, I've written almost 500 blog posts. That's a lot of my time and energy devoted to putting my thoughts and ideas out there on the internet for you to read. If you've enjoyed reading them, and have gotten value out of them, please consider a donation. You'll be helping me keep writing for hopefully another 9 years. Thank You ~ MB.


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