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Arthur Lipner
Learning Tunes on Vibes

By Steve Mansfield

A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO LEARNING HOW to play a jazz standard on vibes or marimba is one of the best-kept secrets in all of percussion,” says mallet master Arthur Lipner. “So many players in all walks of percussion find this area to be one that they are desperately interested in, but also one that is perhaps the most intimidating.”

You can hardly argue with him. In the last two decades, almost all areas of percussion have advanced at a lightning tempo: marimba (techniques, repertoire), marching band (arrangements, equipment development) steel band (technique, arrangements, popularity), orchestral music (new works and composers), drumset (new virtuosity), ethnic percussion, and so on. But not vibes. Is this linked to education?

So many of us touched upon jazz mallets in private or university study, worked on it a bit, then moved on. The degree to which we immersed ourselves at that time gets represented today in how much (or little) space jazz mallets occupy in our professional playing and teaching lives. Just as marimba allows percussionists to explore contemporary music on
the solo level, vibes does the same on the jazz/pop level. Most percussionists welcome a jazz call on drumset, but jazz mallets are another story.

According to Lipner, “Somewhere in the ’70s and ’80s during the growth of jazz and pop music, along with all of the other changes that took place in the radio, record and concert industries, jazz mallets started to fall between the cracks. This decrease in visibility was obviously due to the fact that fewer people were playing the instrument. I can’t help but consider that a solid and universally-accepted approach to teaching could have altered that
trend. But the vibes are such a relatively new instrument that study materials were—and still are—lagging way behind those of, say, the violin and piano. Anyway, that’s then, and now is now.”

Lipner plans to put his best pedaling foot forward at his PASIC ’96 clinic, which will focus on a basic eight-step approach to learning a tune on vibes. “I really hope to clear away some of the fog that surrounds this topic,” he comments. “I’ll be sharing specific, practical exercises and concepts so that people can leave the clinic with some insight about how to study and teach this topic. It’s a progressive approach, one that can grow as the individual grows—from two to four mallets, from beginning to advanced.”

Lipner has been teaching this material around the globe for years. His new text, The Vibes Real Book, elucidates his method in greater detail. In the book, he applies the steps to a handful of standard tunes including St. Thomas and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and includes concise sections on method, theory and improvisation, along with a brief historical background of the composers and songs.

Lipner also plans to perform some of his solo repertoire—a mixture of original compositions, standards, and the now-famous “Space Dancer,” on which he plays vibes and marimba at the same time. “It’s important to get inside a tune to acquire a concept and working knowledge of it,” Lipner says. “To do this, one must identify and define the tune’s basic components of melody, rhythm, harmony and feel. After this point, every player— regardless of level—will have a framework around which he or she can express personal creativity with whatever degree of knowledge and technical proficiency is available.”

Percussive Notes V34 N5 October 1996
Reprinted by permission of the Percussive Arts Society, Inc., 701 NW Ferris, Lawton, OK 73507-5442; E-mail: percarts@pas.org; Web: www.pas.org