What is a Marimba?

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What is a Marimba?

 

What is a Marimba? Information and definitions via the web:

Origin of Marimba is not known, but it seems it started off as wooden bars laid over a hole on the ground which was struck with sticks. In the myth of Zulus (of South Africa), there is a tale about a goddess called "Marimba" who made an instrument by hanging gourds below wooden bars. It sometimes is referred to as the source of the name of the instrument.

Marimba, which was born in South Africa, was brought to South America in the early 16th century by the Africans who were taken there as slaves(*). There, a Guatemalan called Sebastian Hurtado made a Marimba with a wooden resonator pipe instead of gourd. This formed the basis of the modern marimba.

Marimba, which was improved in South America was brought to the United States eventually, and they started to make marimba around 1910. Deagan of Chicago changed the wooden pipe to the metal pipe. Numerous other improvements were made since then including the rearrangement of the keytop to resemble the piano. Modern Marimba is now treated not only as an orchestra instrument but also as a solo instrument thanks to the louder sound achieved by the pipe.

The modern instrument usually has rose wood keyboard with brass pipe resonators. Range differs from an instrument to another, but 4+1/2 to 5 octaves ones are most popular. Major makers of modern marimba includes Musser, Yamaha, Korogi, Saito, Marimba One, Malletech etc.

Marimba Bands

 

Marimba Bands. Information and definitions via the web:

Marimba Bands use the marimba; it is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys (similar to a piano) to aid the performer both visually and physically. This instrument is a type of xylophone, but with broader and lower tonal range and resonators.

The chromatic marimba was developed in Guatemala from the diatonic marimba, an instrument whose ancestor was a Mayan instrument not of African influence. Modern uses of the marimba include solo performances, woodwind ensembles, marimba concertos, jazz ensembles, marching band (front ensembles), drum and bugle corps, and orchestral compositions. Contemporary composers have utilized the unique sound of the marimba more and more in recent years.

Marimba bars are typically made of either wood or synthetic material, rosewood being the most desirable. Padouk is commonly used as a more affordable alternative. Bars made from synthetic materials generally fall short in sound quality in comparison to wooden bars, but are less expensive and yield added durability and weather resistance, making them suitable for outdoor use; marimbas with wooden bars are usually played inside because the bars are susceptible to pitch change due to weather. Bubinga and mahogany have also been cited as comparable to rosewood in quality for use as marimba bars. The specific rosewood used is universally from Honduras, Dalbergia stevensonii. This wood has a Janka rating of 2200, which is about three times harder than Silver Maple. The bars are wider and longer at the lowest pitched notes, and gradually get narrower and shorter as the notes get higher. During the tuning, wood is taken from the middle underside of the bar to lower the pitch. Because of this, the bars are also thinner in the lowest pitch register and thicker in the highest pitch register.

In Africa, most marimbas are made by local artisans from locally available materials.

Marimba bars produce their fullest sound when struck just off center, while striking the bar in the center produces a more articulate tone. On chromatic marimbas, the accidentals (black keys) can also be played on the space between the front edge of the bar and its node (the place where the string goes through the bar) if necessary. Playing on the node produces a sonically weak tone, and the technique is only used when the player or composer is looking for a muted sound from the instrument.

Part of the key to the marimba's rich sound is its resonators. These are metal tubes (usually aluminium) that hang below each bar. The length varies according to the frequency that the bar produces. Vibrations from the bars resonate as they pass through the tubes, which amplify the tone in a manner very similar to the way in which the body of a guitar or cello would. In instruments exceeding 4½ octaves, the length of tubing required for the bass notes exceeds the height of the instrument. Some manufacturers, such as DeMorrow and Malletech, compensate for this by bending the ends of the tubes. This involves soldering smaller straight sections of tubes to form "curved" tubes. Both DeMorrow and Malletech use brass rather than aluminium. Others, such as Adams and Yamaha, expand the tubes into large box-shaped bottoms, resulting in the necessary amount of resonating space without having to extend the tubes. This result is achieved by the custom manufacturer Marimba One by widening the resonators into an oval shape, with the lowest ones reaching nearly a foot in width, and doubling the tube up inside the lowest resonators.

Resonator tuning involves adjusting "stops" in the tubes themselves to compensate for temperature and humidity conditions in the room where the instrument is stored. Some companies offer adjustment in the upper octaves only. Others do not have any adjustable stops. Still some companies (Malletech and DeMorrow) offer full range adjustable stops.

On many marimbas, decorative resonators are added to fill the gaps in the accidental resonator bank. In addition to this, the resonator lengths are sometimes altered to form a decorative arch, such as in the Musser M-250. This does not affect the resonant properties, because the end plugs in the resonators are still placed at their respective lengths.

The mallet shaft is commonly made of wood, usually birch, but may also be rattan or fibreglass. The most common diameter of the shaft is around 5/16". Shafts made of rattan have a certain elasticity to them, while birch has almost no give. Professionals use both depending on their preferences, whether they are playing with two mallets or more, and which grip they use if they are using a four-mallet grip.

Appropriate mallets for the instrument depend on the range. The material at the end of the shaft is almost always a type of rubber, usually wrapped with yarn. Softer mallets are used at the lowest notes, and harder mallets are used at the highest notes. Mallets that are too hard will damage the instrument, and mallets that might be appropriate for the upper range could damage the notes in the lower range (especially on a padouk or rosewood instrument). On the lower notes, the bars are larger, and require a heavier mallet to bring out a strong fundamental. Because of the need to use different hardnesses of mallets, some players, when playing with four or more mallets, might use graduated mallets to match the bars that they are playing (softer on the left, harder on the right).

Some mallets, called "two-toned" or "multi-tonal", have a hard core, loosely wrapped with yarn. These are designed to sound articulate when playing at a loud dynamic, and broader at the quieter dynamics.

Modern marimba music calls for simultaneous use of between two and four mallets (sometimes up to six), granting the performer the ability to play chords or music with large interval skips more easily. Multiple mallets are held in the same hand using any of a number of techniques or grips. For two mallets in each hand, the most common grips are the Burton grip (made popular by Gary Burton), the Traditional Grip (or "cross grip") and the Musser-Stevens grip (made popular by Leigh Howard Stevens). Each grip is perceived to have its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, some marimbists feel the Musser-Stevens grip is more suitable for quick interval changes, while the Burton grip is more suitable for stronger playing or switching between chords and single-note melody lines. The Traditional Grip gives a greater dynamic range and freedom of playing. The choice of grip varies by region (the Musser-Stevens grip and the Burton grip are more popular in the United States, while the traditional grip is more popular in Japan), by instrument (the Burton grip is less likely to be used on marimba than on a vibraphone) and by the preference of the individual performer.

The six-mallet grip is generally a combination of these three grips. Six mallet marimba grip has been used for years by Mexican and Central American marimbists. Keiko Abe has written a number of compositions for six mallets, including a section in her concerto Prism Rhapsody. Other marimbists/composers using this technique include Dean Gronemeier, Robert Paterson and Kai Stensgaard.

The Baja Marimba Band was a popular musical group led by marimba player Julius Wechter, initially intended by producer Herb Alpert to cash in on the "south of the border" craze started by his own Tijuana Brass. However the Baja Marimba Band outlasted the Tijuana Brass by several years, thanks largely to producer Chuck Barris featuring the Baja Marimba Band music on his game shows through the mid 1970s.

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