the marimba is not a piano, part 1: mallet positioning

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 12.54.16 PMScreen Shot 2019-09-23 at 12.54.34 PMScreen Shot 2019-09-23 at 12.54.47 PMScreen Shot 2019-09-23 at 12.55.04 PMScreen Shot 2019-09-23 at 12.55.21 PM“But I wrote it on a piano”
– anonymous student, every day, at every school, since the dawn of time

Repeat after me, friends: “The Marimba is not a piano”. A marimba is a mallet percussion instrument. It has somewhere between 48 and 65 keys. These keys are made of wood, and pedal-equipped counterparts, we have almost no control over its sustain.

In fairness, what makes the marimba tricky is far from obvious. If you’ve written for the instrument before, it’s very possible that you’ve written an unplayable part completely by accident. This is due to a lack of understanding of the physical demands the instrument requires of a performer.

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Easy intervals: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th
Slightly awkward: 2nd, 7th, octave
A bit of a stretch: 9th, 10th
Borderline impossible: 11ths and larger

Easy shifts: 2nd, 3rd
Slightly awkward shifts:
Don’t even try: Be very, very careful

This is all dependent on tempo! At a slow enough speed, any shift is possible.