|Marimba - Music-Instruments of the World|
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Monday, July 10, 2017
The Marimba has come a long way - both geographically and technically speaking. The proto-marimba has long been a part of Amazonian, West African, and Central American cultures. In our society, they are the epitome of a classy, well respected instrument usually featured in high culture circles (such as in academia and orchestras). Marimbas are one of the most beautiful sounding percussion instruments. While very long and heavy, marimbas are capable of making very low to high tones that add an ethereal quality to many music pieces.
People interested in percussion (and perhaps even piano, since the overall layout is somewhat similar) should study and master the marimba. While playing the marimba is standard on the collegiate level, not too many people play the marimba before or after college, which is a shame. Although high school students may briefly encounter the marimbas in marching bands and drum and bugle corps, it is usually an insufficient amount of time to truly appreciate the complexity and necessity of this instrument.
|Marimba - Photo by tottr (cc)|
The reason for the high concentration of marimba playing in college, as opposed to any other time, is that marimbas are very expensive instruments. Often running a couple thousand dollars, they are too expensive for the average person. However, many reputable music schools should have one or two of these at their disposal, and these places make for great practice areas (besides the fact that a professional will be teaching you proper technique). There are affordable ways to get behind a marimba - do it!
The marimba is composed of metal keys of varying lengths hit by soft yarn mallets to produce varying tones. Many marimba players play using two mallets, or even using two mallets in each hand (resulting in four mallets being used simultaneously). Some of the more advanced players can use even more mallets...which is truly amazing. There are many techniques to striking the marimba, so a good deal of emphasis is placed on proper mallet holding methods. Depending on your personal style/capabilities and your teacher's personal preference, you may learn the "traditional grip", the "Burton grip", or the "Stevens grip", amongst many others.
The marimba is an octave lower (an octave is equivalent to eight complete notes) than its smaller counterpart, the xylophone. The main difference between the two instruments is the resonators featured on the marimba. These resonators (usually made of a light metal such as aluminum) are of different lengths and widths to help the marimba achieve its varying sounds. For the lower sounding notes, the resonators beneath the keys sometimes have to bend so as not to go straight through the floor!
Although many people are more familiar with the xylophone, the marimba serves as a sort of backbone in orchestras, ensembles, and bands. They are currently very popular in percussion ensembles, jazz ensembles, and marimba concertos. Any musician with serious musical aspirations simply must explore this wonderful and challenging instrument.
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Sunday, January 1, 2017
Marimbas are wooden keyboard instruments in the percussion family of instruments. Players usually strike the keys with two - four mallets and one instrument may be played by one or two players; depending on the orchestral piece, you may even see three or more marimbists playing the same instrument. Marimbas are wooden instruments that resemble xylophones and they accentuate the unique harmonies and rhythms of the music.
|Folk marimba with gourds, Highland Guatemala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Other instruments in the percussion family include such instruments as cymbals, chimes, the triangle, bells, to name just a few. The marimba is a pitched percussion instrument. Other pitched percussion instrument examples include the timpani, the vibraphone, the glockenspiel, and chimes
Marimbas are used mainly for 20th Century music orchestral music, usually, as a sound effect or as a solo instrument. The marimba actually had long solos in the soundtrack to the film American Beauty.
The marimba keys are arranged like the keys of a piano and they may have as many as 4 - 5.5 octaves of professional Orff-style marimba bars. The bars are tapped to play the notes, similar to the xylophone. Marimba bars are finely crafted from hardwoods such as rosewood, mahogany and padouk. The keys are fine-tuned to reflect the tones played in African societies.
For marimbas in the United States, the resonators under the wooden bars are usually metal and most likely aluminum. They are hollow metal pipes of different lengths with holes covered by thin cellophane (similar to the West African balafon). This is so that when the marimba is struck, you can hear the buzzing sound characteristic of these instruments.
The mallets generally have wooden shafts but may be made of fiberglass, as well. Rattan shafts are also available and they have a little bit of "give" to them while other materials do not. Depending on training and preference, a marimbist may like the flexible shaft better than the ones with no "give" or vice versa. The material that actually strikes the key is usually some type of rubber wrapped in yarn. The marimba keys themselves will define which type of mallet is used on which part of the keyboard. The harder mallets are usually used to strike the high notes and the softer mallets for the lower notes. This is particularly important in playing the marimba because a mallet that is too hard for the keys it strikes may damage the instrument.
Most marimba music calls for several mallets to be used in one composition. It is not uncommon to find 2-3 players stationed at the marimba during a performance. Because two or three people will wield four to six mallets, it is possible to hear beautiful chords coming from the instrument. Many marimba players also play with more than one mallet in each hand. Different methods have also been developed to hold the mallets necessary for a piece of music in one hand. The Burton grip and the Musser-Stevens grip are the two common methods of gripping multiple mallets and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The repertoires of bands in the United-States tend to overlap, probably due to the fact that most of the marimba music is composed by the Zimbabwean musician Dumisani Maraire. He is one of the key people who first brought Zimbabwean music to the West, moving to and working at the University of Washington in 1968. He was a master at playing an instrument known as the mbira which greatly resembles a small hand held instrument known as the thumb piano.
A marimba is an expensive but beautiful instrument. Professional marimbas start in the $2,000 range for a used instrument. They add an open tone to many different compositions that makes them very unique and sought after in the instrument family.