There are a few instruments in a percussionists’ arsenal that have multiple pitches. The most common are the keys. The marimba is a pitched instrument with wooden bars. The bars (same with concert bells, xylophones, vibraphones, etc.) are exactly like piano keys. The lower level would be the white keys, and the higher level would be the black keys. Look at the images below to see the similarities.
The pipes below the bars are called “resonators.” They’re what make the different pitches, similar to a pipe organ. The longer the resonator, the deeper the pitch.
When playing the marimba, you should play in the center of the bars. For the upper row, playing on the edge is acceptable. If you ever get to play around with one, you’ll be able to hear the difference in tone when striking various areas of a bar.
Your grip should be similar to the timpani’s French grip. Thumbs up, pointing ahead of you, fulcrum between your thumb andforefinger. Play using an upstroke, meaning you’ll begin and end the stroke with the mallet up. Think of it as pulling the sound out of the bar.
Marimba mallets are typically balls of rubber wrapped in yarn. Similar to the different sizes of drumsticks, there are harder or softer mallets, depending on the sound you’re wanting to produce. If you’re a White Stripes fan, you can hear a marimba in “The Nurse.” Here’s a famous marimba soloist, She-e Wu. She’s awesome. (Four mallets!)
All Photos by Bianca Russelburg