An Introduction to the Marimba
Tools for Success
Marimbas come in multiple choices as far as sizes and materials go. From a 2.5 Octave to a 5.0 Octave (the most common is a 4.3), Rosewood, Padouk and Synthetic bars are available. Some have adjustable height frames to to best fit the performer. Covers should be considered to protect the instrument when not in use.Mallets Shop Now >
Beginning students should start with a pair of yarn-wound mallets graded as a Medium texture. This will cover much of the dynamic ranges that a beginning marimbist will learn. Rattan handles are common for this mallet of choice.Mallet/Stick Bag Shop Now >
A mallet/stick bag is a must to protect your mallets. As your skills develop, you’ll expand your mallet collection as the music dictates your need. Plan on purchasing a bag that will hang from your marimba for easy access to mallets when you need to switch textures.Metronome Shop Now >
This clicking timepiece is an absolute must for training your internal clock for keeping time. They come in many levels, from a simple click to 'programming' complex rhythms and compound time signatures. They are the musician's training 'clock' for perfect time in all music.Music Stand Shop Now >
A music stand is more than just a music holder. It puts the music in front of the student at the proper height and angle. This promotes good posture and stance while giving the student the visual display of music, marimba and director all in one shot. Centering the music stand to the middle of the keyboard (Middle C) gives a good reference to the whole keyboard.Instructional material/Folders/Binders Shop Now >
Like any other language, music has a written form to represent it. With so many published materials out on the market, a student can only benefit and grow when they can read and understand what they are being taught by a good instructor. Printed materials are the guide for at-home practice so the student doesn't 'forget' what their teacher covered in a lesson. They also help the teacher guide that student in their development. Folders and binders help keep everything organized and tidy.Pencil. Not a Pen
Pencils allow the student to take notes and write on sheet music with the ability to erase markings. This is especially helpful for music that has to be turned back in after a performance.CD/DVD/Audio/MP3/Computer devices Shop Now >
There is so much more instructional information today than ever before thanks to technology. Some training manuals now come with media that includes videos, mp3's, play-alongs and addendums in PDF format. These resources will benefit you or your budding marimbist immensely.
Basic Marimba Maintenance
Always keep your marimba covered when you’re not practicing/playing. Generally, the manufacturer supplies a cover with your purchase. If not, order one or use a cloth big enough to cover it.It's Not A Table Top
Marimbas can take up some floor space, but it is a fine and expensive instrument and it needs to be well cared for like any other instrument. Placing things on top of the marimba could damage the instrument.Before practicing/playing
Before playing on your marimba, inspect the cords that suspend the bars above the resonators for wear and tear. If you notice fraying of the cord, order a replacement cord from your retailer ASAP for your specific brand and model Marimba. Once the cord breaks, the marimba is not usable.Resonators
From time to time, something can fall and land down in the marimba’s resonator tube. If this happens, just remove the assembly and dump out the debris.Cords Can Lose Their Tenson
At one end of each row of bars is a spring junction that helps keep tension on the suspension cord. Adjusting the cord's knot inside of each spring will renew the tension on the cord that suspends the bars properly.Bars
Most companies today manufacture wooden bars made of Rosewood and Padouk that are lacquered. A quick wipe with a dry cloth is all you need to clean them. Bars not lacquered should be cleaned and treated with a non-wax lemon oil. Keep your instrument in a climate-controlled area of 68 to 72 degrees fahrenheit and 50% relative humidity. If you have to move the instrument to a less desirable environment, give time for the instrument to adjust to the performing environment. If your bars ever crack, they will need replacing. Bars can become out of tune over time. Find a reputable tuner for this or contact your retailer to order the specific notes from the manufacturer.Squeky or Unusual Noises
As your instrument ages, it can create sounds that were not meant to be. The screws, rivets, metal and wood combined other factors will cause wear over time. Lubricate any wheels you may have. Check resonators for loose fasteners. Check your frame for any loose screws and bolts and tighten accordingly. If in doubt, send it out for repair.Mallet Choice Shop Now >
Using inappropriate beaters including drumsticks, xylophone mallets or mallets which do not contain wool/binding around its core will damage the bars.
During the beginning of your training there will be several things you will need to pay attention to. They are:Stance
Stand at the center of the marimba and move side to side with the exercise at hand. A good instructor will address this.Grip
Follow your instructor and instruction book on mallet grips. For two-mallet playing, each hand holds the mallet the same way.Learning to Read Notes, Time signatures and Rhythms
Since the marimba covers a wide range of note voicings (for a 4-octave marimba, it covers C2 to C7) you will need to learn both bass and treble clef music.
Time Signatures are note directions that look like fractions. They tell you how many pulses (the top number) are in a measure of music and what kind of note (the bottom number) is getting the pulse (or count). Lots of music is in 4/4. This is a time signature that means there are 4 counts of quarter notes in each measure. 6/8 would be six counts of 1/8 (eighth) notes. 3/4 is three count of 1/4 (quarter) notes.
Rhythms are the values of a notes’ timing. Since you do not need to blow to make the marimba make a sound, this frees up your voice to count out your rhythms. Counting is crucial to being accurate. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 & 2 & 3e&a4e&a1e& 2 &a3e a e&a are accurate counts using quarter, eighths and sixteenth notes and rests. If you can say it, you can play it.
This is where the metronome comes into play and counting out loud. Just like clapping to a nursery rhyme or a favorite song, tempo/time is so important in helping you become a better player.Using Peripheral Vision
Unlike other instruments where you have hands/fingers on the instrument, the marimba and other mallet instruments depends on striking the notes while reading the music and/or watching a conductor. You will need to know about memorizing and/or reading ahead while you perform. It's not as hard as it sounds. You can read faster than you can speak and the same principles apply here. Glancing in your peripheral view will help you get the right notes in your performance.
Forming Good Habits
Start slow. It's not a race. Poor technique sounds terrible and never wins you points. Getting your technique down will give you the skills needed to sound great. Sounding great wins listeners that will appreciate your talent.Remember to Count Out Loud
Again, if you can say, it you can play it. It's that simple. Our brain is close to our mouth and we have used our voice longer than we have used any muscle in our body. Our limbs will follow anything we can say. Try tapping to the phrase "hamburger lollipop.” Without exact note rhythms, you can say a long and two short syllables followed by two short and a long syllables. Rhythmically, this could equate to the following: Quarter note and two eighth notes and two eighth notes and a quarter note. Count-wise, it becomes: 1 2 & 3 & 4. Other permutations of subdivisions are possible.
Another reason to count out loud is that is makes you breathe. Percussionists have a tendency to hold their breath when things get difficult, which leads to rushing the tempo. Rushing is not a habit we want as performers.Dedicate the Proper Amount of Time to Practice
As with anything in life, we started with the very basics to develop our motor and auditory skills. Crawling, walking and running. Mumbles, gargles to speaking. It all took time. The same applies to developing our music skills. Dedicating 30 minutes a day, whether altogether or broken into three 10 minute groups, is a plus to your development. No practice is no gain at all. "The more you practice, the better you get. The better you get, the better you feel about your performance. The better you feel about your performance, the more you want to practice." This is paraphrased from a friend of mine, Dr. John "Dr. Throwdown" Wooton, percussion professor at Southern Mississippi University.Staying True to Fundamentals
If something isn't working, it is usually the failure of a fundamental. Technique and grips need to be looked at to be sure that is not the problem.Use Your Metronome Shop Now >
As said before, practice slow at first. Set the metronome to a low number to start with any new exercise or music you are practicing. Once you are comfortable with the passages, bump up the tempo by 4-8 clicks. Repeat the process until you surpass the required tempo by 12 clicks or more. This will guarantee that you can play the required exercises fluidly with precision.Seek More Knowledge
Nothing will replace good instruction from a great teacher. Seek their knowledge and direction. It will make you a better musician.
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