Excerpted from How To Write For Percussion by Samuel by fxs21421


									                   Excerpted from How To Write For Percussion by Samuel Solomon

Idiomatic writing for mallet instruments
Thumbs and pinkies
Composers often write with a piano and are therefore thinking with ten fingers. A percussionist
can hold up to four mallets comfortably and has quite a bit of freedom, but certainly not as much
as a ten-fingered pianist. The dexterity that composers enjoy on piano can easily result in the
composition of keyboard percussion music that is extremely difficult. By composing on piano with
just thumbs and pinky fingers, the logistical problems that keyboard percussionists face will become
immediately apparent.

One will first notice, when playing piano with only these fingers, that only four notes can be
articulated simultaneously. This may be obvious, but with ten free fingers, composers can forget
and occasionally slip in a five or six-note chord. Playing a simple scale with one hand is not nearly
as easy - C major with alternating thumbs is actually appropriate. If the four-fingered pianist wants
to pivot between two adjacent minor thirds in one hand (e.g., C-E and D -F ) the whole arm has to
swivel back and forth. In addition to these limitations, imagine that each thumb and pinky are 16
inches long and the piano keys are three times as wide!

As silly as it may sound, this “thumbs and pinkies” technique is rather accurate. One is able
to imagine how percussionists move across the keyboard, and this can help the composer write
idiomatically for these instruments.

Percussionists can, however, play larger intervals than the thumbs and pinkies will usually allow.
The interval stretch in one hand varies with instrument (the largest interval on a vibraphone will
be much less than the largest interval on a glockenspiel) and with placement in the range of the
instrument (the bars get wider on the low end of the instruments). For these reasons, it is hard to
give an exact limit on interval size. The limit in the lowest octave of a five-octave marimba where
the notes are largest is about an octave, comfortably. Larger intervals are possible as one moves up
in the instrument’s range, but it is best to speak with a percussionist about a specific example.

                                                                          �� keyboard percussion
     Below is a list of the largest intervals in one hand for each instrument. Slightly larger intervals are
     possible but should be used carefully.
              •marimba and vibraphone - octave
              •xylophone and glockenspiel - 11th
              •crotales - major 6th

     Percussionists can play any smaller interval down to a unison. Articulating two adjacent notes with
     one mallet is not practical.

     The composer must keep in mind that mallet instruments are large and awkward. A five-octave
     marimba is over eight feet long! The size of a fifth on the low end of a marimba is about equivalent
     to two octaves on a piano, so one can take what is known about accuracy problems with large leaps
     and runs that quickly span large distances on piano and apply that four-fold to keyboard percussion

     There is one important limitation that the thumbs and pinkies technique does not address: mallet
     instruments are never touched like a piano so the performer has no way of feeling his or her way
     around the keyboard. Percussionists rely entirely on being able to see the keyboard to locate the
     correct notes. Of course muscle memory is in play which helps with interval sizes and distances
     across the keyboard, but this is very abstract. Most percussionists are required to play on many
     different instruments - not just marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, and glockenspiel but different
     brands of marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones, and glockenspiels where bar size can vary slightly.
     This has a considerable effect on one’s ability to become truly familiar, as a pianist would, with the
     distances between notes and the sizes of intervals. There are some solo marimbists who play nothing
     but marimba and always play on the same instrument; for the rest of the percussion community, the
     ability to see the instrument is very important.

     As a result, if the two hands are playing very far apart from each other, accuracy problems are
     created. The reader may try the following exercise: sit at a piano with your eyes focused on middle
     C and notice the span of your peripheral vision. Without moving your head, observe the range you
     can comfortably move your hands in both directions and still see what notes you are playing; now,
     divide that interval by four. This is the range in which a passage could comfortably fit on a mallet
     instrument - probably not much more than an octave. The composer can, of course, expand beyond
     that but must keep in mind that the player may only be able to look at one hand at a time. For this
     reason the composer may want to have difficult large leaps in only one hand at a time while the other
     plays tighter passages.

     Here are some more specifics that one can discover with the thumb and pinky technique:

              •Fourths, fifths, and sixths are the most comfortable intervals.
              •Just as in piano playing, shifting one’s whole hand around is difficult while figures that
               move each hand smoothly around the keyboard are much easier.
              •Keeping one hand on each keyboard - naturals or accidentals - at a time is preferable
               (like the piano part in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka).
     The reader may try the following passage (Figure 6.8) on piano with thumbs and pinkies to get a
     feel for keyboard percussion playing. This passage is very idiomatic. Mallet indications are 1, 2,
     3, 4 from left to right (see Figure i.1) - that is, 1 is left pinky, 2 is left thumb, 3 is right thumb, and
     4 is right pinky. R and L mean right and left when both mallets (fingers) of the same hand are used
     together. (Mallet indications are rarely included in scores.)

��                Excerpted from How To Write For Percussion by Samuel Solomon
                                                               [Figure 6.8]

Excerpted from How To Write For Percussion by Samuel Solomon
                                         �� keyboard percussion

                                                      [Figure 6.8 continued]

                                                    [Matthew Fuerst]

��   Excerpted from How To Write For Percussion by Samuel Solomon

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