The technical acts adopted by a percussionist for sound production are often underestimated by those starting on the study of a percussion instrument.
A violinist uses various bow movements to produce effects like a crisp or sostenuto staccato, a balzato, a martellato, a picchettato, etc., and a pianist uses action and articulation to create expressive effects with his fingers, like legato, staccato legato, a crisp or light staccato, etc., and so the percussionist can, and must, use action, articulation and weight to produce similar effects with the mallets.
Starting from the waiting position - which is, in practice, the moment before actual playing - three essential stages of a percussionist's technical act can be calculated:
1) raising and preparing the mallet,
2) impact with the key
(for sound production)
3) return to raised position.
The quality of the sound and expressive effects like staccato and legato depend on such things as wrist and finger relaxation, the immediacy of return to elasticity after brief contractions and the length of time the mallets stay on the keys.
Relaxation, however, does not mean total slackness (since in that case the necessary intensity of the rhythm pulse would no longer be there), but simply independence of the various articulations from the rest of the body. In practice, a controlled relaxation that is limited to the articulations involved in percussion movement.
Interpretation regards both the reading of the expression signs and the accentuations that regulate the rhythm and melody. Consequently, for a correct performance, it is not enough to interpret the signs governing the tone-colour effects, but you have to learn to "speak" musically, by giving just the right touch to all the components of the musical text.
Acquiring the technical details regarding the type of articulation movement, the evaluation of striking distance and the right speed, all combine to determine the quality of the interpretation. You have to begin by listening to yourself really critically, right from the very first exercises.
A forte, for example, cannot be just a violent and wooden sound, while a pianissimo is not just a quieter sound than all the others. In other words, apart from lesser or greater intensity, you must never abandon the so-called bel tocco - the fine touch.
To achieve absolute control of the various types of stroke, and therefore mastery of technique, you have to begin by understanding the percussion difference that exists between the two expressive extremes: legato and staccato. Then later, you can go on to produce the various intermediate effects - that is, the staccato legato, the light staccato, etc. Clearly the legato on a percussion instrument can never be compared to that obtained on a flute or a violin. Nevertheless, by caressing the keys without stiffening the articulations in any way (see "Articulation for staccato and legato"), you can get quite near to the effects produced on the other instruments.