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
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
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