Why harder mallets help you be heard in a mix.

The short answer is that it isn't just that they make you louder. They do make you a bit louder, but loudness is a psychoacoustic phenomenon. There is more to it than just that. In the Saturday session I mentioned the principle of acoustic masking. That's a big piece of it.

Think of masking this way. If you were standing in the street wearing a T-shirt and the wind was blowing, you would feel the shirt moving in the wind. However, if you got hit by a car driving by, during that time you were getting hit by the car, I doubt you would notice your shirt blowing in the wind. If something else applies more energy to the thing you are applying energy to (in this case a slice of the audio spectrum), you will get a smaller slice of the overall pie.

The prior video I posted showed how the different areas of the sound spectrum were energized as we used harder mallets that extracted more harmonics from the bars. In this video I show a visualization of why that matters in a mix and how harder mallets help to overcome acoustic masking.





Access: Anonymous

Comments

a maze inggggggg. i have learned a lot from you in the past two days!

just like the book i read about the sound of the rain forest and animals fighting to a piece of the sound spectrum for their mating calls. and this is what sticks can do for us. soft and hard. wowowowowo

When I was playing with a combo a few months ago, I planned to use my hardest mallets (Dave Samuels), but I got a comment that they sounded "too bright" so I switched to my DF30s. I was mic'd and it seemed to work ok. Is bright the same as getting a stronger higher range of harmonics?

I don’t always trust the words people use to describe an issue with the sound of music, so “brighter” may have meant different things. In general, a “brighter” mallet is one with more overtones in its sound. Some overtones are harmonics and some are not (the way the bar is tuned and the way you strike it contribute to this balance as well).

When the sound is simply brighter, it’s likely those are harmonics. If the sound is clanky and bell tone like, then those are likely non-harmonic overtones (and those are the ones people don’t like often).

Here’s the catch, though: you were being amplified through mics. Mics all have their own characteristics as well, as do the speakers (speakers with piezoelectric tweeters are often a culprit in making vibes sound tinny and harsh). This can accentuate frequency ranges that only contain overtones, thus your sound gets harsh and masking of the fundamentals comes into play. Your fundamentals may have been totally masked in the amplified sound, causing the reaction you got. Moving to a softer mallet helped correct that without the sound tech having to make changes to your mic channels to make them sound good with your preferred mallets.

OK that all makes a lot of sense, Randy. So many factors to consider.
I've used those Dave Samuels mallets with another combo in a different setup where they worked well (according to the iPhone recording from the audience the vibes were well balanced). BTW I really appreciated your visual explanation of the wider range of harmonics you get with harder mallets.

Besides all thoses very impotant technical factors, there is another one very often forgotten, the rythmic factor. When your rythm (or time, i don't know how to say it in english, sorry) is very good, it helps A LOT to be heard in an ensemble. It's very easy to be aware of that with beginners : their sound disappear in the whole sound (rythmic masking ?), and step by step they can be heard when the rythmic quality of their playing increases. Make sure that your quarter notes are really quarter notes (and so on with 8ths, etc...) and a good part of the job will be done.
There is another factor too, it's the "placement" of the sound ( sorry again, i'm using the french word, i don't know what the english word is). It has to see with a kind of "intensity" of the sound. It's totally evident with blowers. When a saxo player doesn't have this "sound placement", you can put 20 mikes for him, he never will cut trough, nothing helps. Some time later, when his sound has matured, one mike will be enough... As a sound engineer for live shows, i have seen that many times. And it evidently applies with all the instruments.

When the transient at the beginning of the note lines up with other transients, such as the ride cymbal, it will be partially masked and the beginning of the body (which is still much louder than the remaining ringing part) of the note will happen a bit after that when there is a momentary lull in masking. Players who play ahead of the beat will have a pronounced sound to their transients, thus sound a little thinner in the mix, and the fat part of the note will happen at a time when it is masked making it sound even thinner.

A related but similar consideration is intonation. In the early days of bebop, when mics weren't really a thing in a lot of clubs, horn players used what they called "soloistic intonation". That is, they overblew their horns a tad to make them a little sharp when they played solos so that their sound would stand out from the group. Listen to nearly any older recording of Charlie Parker and you can hear that concept (later on, with Norman Granz and better studios, he brought his pitch center down a bit). However, if you have a really loud vibes gig and everyone else is at 440, playing on 442 bars may not be so out of tune that it will bother the other players, but your sound will cut through more. I don't personally like that sound, but it does work if you aren't compulsive about pitch.

Another kind of "soloistic intonation" is our good old vibrato, which is a fast slight modulation of pitch "around" a note, and was used by singers in order to be heard by a crowd when sonorisation didn't exist yet. The same effect was used by speakers (politicians, churchmen, etc...) for the same purpose and was part of the formal teaching of eloquence. Funny to see that vibrato, despite being useless in our technical world still exist and became a stylistic musical mean.