“Good Technique is Good!” by Chris Wilson

I have been working diligently this summer on improving myself as a marimbist. As I’ve mentioned before, there are some things that I feel are very poor about my playing, mostly technical. I have figured out where I made my mistake, how to fix it now, and what this means for any of you as readers. I will be asking for some feedback throughout this blog.

One of the major mistakes that I have made over the years is my past lack of interest in method books, etudes, and general exercises. Throughout most of high school and my undergraduate degree I used pieces of music to learn how to play the marimba. This is a horrible way to grow as a musician, and could be the topic of a whole other blog.

Here’s one of my main problems with percussion, I don’t think that I was alone in this issue. It seems that more often than not I have bumped into percussionists like myself who felt so stretched thin that they never had the desire to work on the basics when it came to the marimba. It’s understandable (not defensible, but understandable). We spend hours every day working on snare drum rudiments, timpani tuning exercises, orchestral excerpts, jazz studies, etc. When we get to the marimba oftentimes the most selfish of us just want to sit down and play a solo.

However, this is what holds a lot of students back on the marimba, and I feel that it’s what held me back. Now, I do not blame my teachers. A private lesson instructor can tell you what to do, but they cannot sit in the practice room with you and make sure you’re doing your work. Both of my instructors expected certain things from me when it came to technical studies, I just didn’t deliver.

This was especially problematic when I started at the Boston Conservatory. Within a couple of weeks of starting school I switched from Stevens grip to Traditional grip. I then proceeded to struggle with my practicing because I never used a method book on the grip I had switched to. I felt that I had no where to turn when I was practicing and running into frustrating parts. Imagine me in a practice room trying to play through a section where the mallets in my right hand were supposed to be going back and forth from a tenth to a second. Instead, the mallets just kept flying out of my hand.

Not only did I struggle to learn the finer points of my grip, I also didn’t think about using resources that I already owned to grow quickly into my new grip. For example, this summer I have been working my way through Method of Movement, which is something that I haven’t done in years. I, of course, haven’t been using the method section where he teaches about the grip. However, I have been using the countless exercises to combat technical problems that I still struggle with to this day. Just because I don’t use the same grip, doesn’t mean the exercises don’t work!

So here has been my summer so far. I have been working through MOM, as stated above. I have also been reworking through Nancy Zeltsman’s Four Mallet Marimba Playing. As I am reworking through this book I am discovering many of the answers to the problems I had while in Nancy’s studio. I have also enjoyed working through her exercises, which also work on musicianship.

Finally, I have been working through Gordon Stout’s Ideo-Kinetics workbook. The other two books are no-brainers, but this is one that is fairly new to me. My first question to you readers is how many of you have worked through this book? I heard about it from Nancy while in Boston, but not before then. It was never something that was pushed on me, and now that I’ve discovered it I will use it as a teaching tool for the rest of my life. After that first week of using it I already felt I had a greater feel for my marimba.

One finer point: my left handed roll is improving! As I mentioned a while back, one very specific area I struggle with is my left handed roll. I know that this is something almost all right handed percussionists struggle with, but I feel as though my left hand is even more useless than most peoples’. I have been working on it from two angles this summer. First, I have been using the scientific approach, using an exercise and trying to speed it up manually. The other approach I’ve been using is the “controlled spaz.” This is the way I learned with my right hand (in high school): try to flop your wrist back and forth, and eventually learn to control it. Why don’t you guys write to me and tell me what works for you?

Also, if anyone has any good suggestions on the following, please leave them in the comments section:

Good method books (other than those listed above).
Good etudes.
Beginner to Intermediate pieces that you enjoy.

For more by Chris, visit his Blog

Originally posted on DrumChattr on August 29, 2010 by Shane Griffin.

Dave Gerhart
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