Published on Sunday, 25 April 2010 16:03
Written by Bruce Gale
he Basic Stroke
The major keyboard percussion instruments are the xylophone, the glockenspiel, the marimba, and the vibraphone. [Strictly speaking, the piano is also a percussion instrument. However, it is rarely used in the secondary school band]. Most keyboard percussion instruments used in the typical college or secondary school band consist of a row of suspended bars made from rosewood, carbon steel, aluminum alloy or some synthetic material. These bars are arranged in the same order as piano keys, except that they are all of the same colour. Most also have metal tubes called resonators beneath each bar. These are designed to give maximum clarity to the pitch and timbre. Because the xylophone sounds an octave higher than written, its resonators are shorter than those of the marimba or vibraphone. The vibraphone is an electric instrument with the sustaining power controlled by a damper pedal.
The Basic Stroke
The mallets are held and played in a manner similar to timpani sticks, although in the case of keyboard percussion there is no natural rebound. Hold the mallets between the thumb and the curved joint of the first finger, with the thumb on the side of the stick and the other fingers well turned under.
The keyboard should be about six inches below the player's waist.
Generally, the stroke is executed with the wrist rather than the forearm or shoulder. [The forearms are sometimes used, but the shoulders should never move]. The hands should be held level, with the palms down. The angle formed by the mallets when positioned on the bar should be approximately 90 degrees. The player stands near the center of the instrument, a few inches from the bars. The height of the keyboard itself should be adjusted so that it reaches about six inches below the player’s waist. If it becomes necessary to move to a different register during a performance, the player does so by shuffling. He or she should not move by crossing over both feet.
Xylophone mallets are made of hard rubber or acrylic. This enables them to obtain the crisp and brittle sound characteristic of the instrument. Softer effects can nevertheless be obtained with medium to hard mallets. Marimbas, on the other hand, should not be played with very hard mallets at all because such mallets do not produce the characteristic marimba tone and may actually damage the wooden bars. Use medium or soft mallets instead. Although the bars of both the marimba and the xylophone are made of rosewood, the xylophone is made from the hard core of the log and the marimba from the softer outer section.
For most purposes, it is best to avoid striking keyboard percussion instruments on the node. The node is where the rope passes through the bar or where the bar touches the frame of the instrument. This point lacks the fundamental tone and is apt to produce a very muffled sound. For the best sound, strike at the center of the bars.