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11/20/2015

ExtendedTechniquesforVibraphone

2001JamesWalker
Todownloadthefree"basic"RealPlayersoftware,gotoRealAudio.com.

Atonelevel,themechanicsofplayingthevibraphonearequiteobviousandintutive:graba
malletandhitthebar,andyougetaprettygoodsound.However,thereareother"extended"
techniquessomeoffersoundsunattainablewithtraditionaltechniques,andothersallowaccess
tonotesabovetherangeoftheinstrument.Pleasenotethatthesoundscreatedherewereall
doneacousticallynosignalprocessingoraudio"wizardry"wasinvolved.
I.Harmonics
Vibraphonebarspossessnotonlythefundamentaltoneofagivenpitch(thatis,the"written"
noteofabar),butalsothepartials,orharmonicsofthatnote.Thefirstharmonicona
vibraphonebarsoundstwooctavesabovethefundamentaltone.Theuseofharmonicsallows
onetoplaynoteswhichareabovethehigh"f,"thetopnoteofthestandardvibraphonerange.
Harmonicswhichfallwithinthestandardrangeoftheinstrument(suchastheexampleshown
below)willhaveadifferentsoundcomparedtotheactualnoteonthevibraphone.
Therearetwowaystonotatetheuseofharmonics,andthesearesometimesusedtogether.
Oneindicationisthesmallcircleshownunderthenoteshowingthebartobeplayed.Theother
indicatoristhediamondshapednoteheadappearingonthepitchoftheharmonicitself.Both
areshowninthisexample:

Thetechniqueforplayingharmonicsisfairlysimple,andwithalittlepractice,onecan
consistentlyexecutethetechnique.Simplytouchafingertip,oramallethead,onthecenterof
thebar(equidistantbetweenthenodalpointsofthebar)then,strikethebardirectlyonanodal
point.

II.PitchBending

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Whilethevibraphonewillneverhavethesameflexibilityofpitchasstring,brass,orwind
instruments,itispossibletobendthepitchofabardown.Thistechniquehasbeenaroundfor
decades,butitsuseisarelativeraretynowadays.
Tobendanoteonthevibraphone,oneneedsa"normal"vibraphonemallet(cordoryarn
wrapped),andahardmallet(withamalletheadmadeofhardrubberorplastic,oraveryhard
wrappedmalletheadalthoughthistechniqueisdifficulttoexecutewithawrappedmallet).
restthehardmalletonanodalpointofabar
strikethebarwiththe"normal"mallet
pressingthehardmalletintothebar,dragitawayfromthenodalpoint

Severalthingstorememberwiththistechnique:
youmayhavetoexperimentwithyourchoiceofhardmallet.
youmayhavetoexperimentwiththeamountofpressureusedto
pressthehardmalletintothebar.
thepitchwilllowerasyoumovethehardmalletawayfromthe
nodalpointifyougetpastthemidpointofthebar,andstart
movingtowardstheothernodalpoint,thepitchwillbegintorise.
itiseasiertoexecutethistechniquebypullingthemallettowards
you,towardsthecenterofthebar,ratherthanpushingit.

Thiseffectmayalsobeusedto"bend"onepitchdowntothepitchofanotherbar,ifthesecond
noteisahalfsteporwholestepbelowthefirstnote:

III.Bowing

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ExtendedTechniquesforVibraphone

Avibraphonebarmaybemanipulatedwithastringinstrumentbow(almostalwaysabassbow,
whosesizeisbettersuitedtothisusethana'cello,viola,orviolinbow).Thesoundwhichis
createdisquitebeautiful,lackingthestrongattackofamalletandproducingadifferenttoneas
thebarsustains.
Sincethistechniqueisborrowedfromstringinstruments,thenotationisborrowedaswell.
Notestobebowedonthevibraphoneareindicatedwithadownbow(indicatingmotionfrom
thehandle,knownasthe"frog,"tothetipofthebow)oranupbowmarking(fromthetip
towardsthehandle)anothermethodistheuseoftheterm,"arco."(Itisyourauthor'shumble
opinionthatthechoiceof"upbowing"or"downbowing"isofminimalimportanceonthe
vibraphoneit'smuchmoresignificanttostringplayerswhohavetoagreeoncommonphrasing
fortheirsectioninanorchestra.)

Tobowavibraphonebar,drawthebowverticallyacrosstheextendededgeofthebar.
Experimentwiththeamountofpressureusedtoholdthebowagainstthebar,withthespeedat
whichyoudrawthebow,andwiththetensionofthebowitself.
Afewnotesaboutbassbows:
Stringinstrumentbowscanbeveryexpensive,runningintothousandsofdollarsforthefinest
horsehairbows.Amuchbetterchoiceforapercussionististoinvestintheleastexpensive
fiberglassbassbows,whichwilllastmuchlongerthanthosewithhorsehair,andusuallycostfifty
dollarsapieceorless.Anyimprovementinthesoundonemightgetonavibraphonewiththe
horsehairbowisnegligible,ifany,andcertainlydoesnotjustifytheinitialexpenseortheadded
expenseofrestringingthebow.
Also,theuseofbassrosinonthebowisvital.Rosinwillhelpthebowgrabontothebarasyou
drawit,makingitmucheasiertogetthebartospeak.Additionally,remembertoloosenthe
tensiononthebowwhenitisnotinuseovertighteningthebow,orleavingittightenedwhennot
inuse,willgreatlyshortenthebow'slifespan.

IV.BowingHarmonics
Finally,justasonecanuseharmonicswhenplayingwithmallets,theseharmonicscanbe
accessedwhenbowingaswell.

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Hereisanexamplewhichbeginswiththefundamentaltone,andbyplacingafingeronthe
middleofthebar,theharmoniciscreatedforthesecondnote:

Theextendedtechniquesdemonstratedinthislessonaremorecommonlyassociatedwith
"classical"vibraphoneperformance,butthereisnoreasonthatajazzmusiciancannotmakeuse
ofthemaswell.
(Andfinally,keepinmindyoucanbowmarimbabarsaswell,alongwithxylophonebars,
crotales,cymbals,triangles,musicstands...)
(SpecialthankstoDaveSmith,ProfessorofPercussionatWesternConnecticutState
University,fortheuseofhisbassbowinthecreationofthesoundfilesonthispage.)
(Thispageandallthematerialswithincopyright2000JamesWalker,AllRights
Reserved.Noportionofthispagemaybeduplicatedordistributedwithoutthe
author'swrittenconsent.)

(clickthe"lessons"icontoreturntotheindexoflessonsatmalletjazz.com)

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