Questions on Marimba Design - Discussions with Richard
-----Original Message----- From: Richard Sent: 02 August 2010 To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Questions on Marimba DesignHey Jim,
I've been doing some serious web searching, but am unable to find answers to two issues.
Q1: Arrangement of Notes / Bars
I see your site pics show marimbas notes arranged the same as a piano:
But why do I see the notes/bars on a Marimba more often than not arranged from:
That arrangement is opposite to a Piano, but is the same as a drum kit.
Q2: Curved Keyboard
I have yet to see a curved keyboard arrangement - i.e. one which is shaped in an arc, placing all of the bars at a more consistent and natural distance from each arm / elbow.
Has this been tried?
OK so Q1 - well low on the left and high on the right is certainly the standard arrangement - in fact I've personally NEVER seen it any other way around. Certainly all the Westernized instruments have always been made that way from the very start of the instrument's Western History. The traditional Mexican and Central American marimbas are also all made this way to my knowledge and that is really where the marimba PROPER actually comes from. The type of marimba you are likely to see a lot of in your part of the world is actually based on a slightly different ancestry - the "Balafon" or in the Western world closer to a xylophone - although they are of course incredibly similar. HOWEVER the crucial thing is this - most of those instruments you are likely to see are not chromatic - in other words they do not contain all the traditional Western 12 tones per octave - they are more normally what we call diatonic (the 7 Western White notes only) or even Pentatonic (based on a five notes per octave scale) or sometimes not even using Western tonal systems at all. Almost universally however the thing is this: They do not have TWO rows of notes (white notes and black notes on a piano) but just a single row. What this means is that if you happen to be viewing the instrument from the "non-player" side then it will look just like the low notes are on the left. Do you think this might be the source of confusion?
Q2: - A guy Called Max Krimmel made a bass marimba set up he called "the fan marimba" which kind of used this concept - sort of. He used bars that were wider at the top than at the bottom and some curved frame work so essentially the player was standing in the centre of a fan shape instrument. The curved arrangement is certainly possible - but the logistics of creating a frame to suite this - especially for a proper chromatic concert instrument are just so terribly difficult. The design would be a nightmare and the instrument would use SO much more material and be so much heavier and more expensive and time consuming to build - you would also invariably find such an instrument difficult to dismantle and re-assemble for transport.
Oh - btw - it is not so much a matter of higher or lower notes needing more power in the strike to sound - it is more a matter of the softness etc of the mallet - harder mallets suit the higher notes better but will sound harsh and even damage bass bars. Softer mallets sound nice and warm on low notes but will not produce much volume on higher notes unless they are swung hard! Even then they have a "woolly" contact sound which is generally considered too "thud like"
Hope this all helps!
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Thanks due for a detailed helpful response.
In other words, what would the drawbacks be if the bars were the conventional rectangular shape, but with essentially a widening triangular gap between each bar?
Perhaps it would be best to give you some context:
I'm about to start building my own Marimba - and as usual for my personality type - I'm going the (over) ambitious route.
I want to be able to play:
So my target goal is a Chromatic key marimba, with a wide range.
My plan is to build two quarter-circle marimbas, which can be played / transported as two separate instruments ... but which can be bolted / fused together into one semi-circlular wide range solo instrument.
If you look at the PDF attachement, you'll see my planning ideas.
If I manage to get this right, I may consider making BASS and UPPER voice extensions bringing in the 5 lowest and 5 highest notes needed to give me the full BARITONE -> PICCOLO range.
So that's the reason for the curved keyboard approach ... to bring the wide range of bars into a comfortable playing range for my arms.
Comments & suggestions & (constructive) criticism welcome.
And a big thanks again for getting back to me - after all I'm just bumming free advice - it shows you have passion and heart.
Hi again Rich
In response to Q2 - no, there is no reason at all why you can't just have normal bars with bigger spacing further away from the body as you suggest. Normally you would have a single bar post (string holder) between each bar on each end of the bar. For this type of design though you would want extras - just the one normal one at the end of the bar closer to the player, then two at the end further from the player. At that further end you would have a post immediately either side of the bar to keep it from sliding on the string side to side there and changing the angle - than a gap before the next post and bar. In fact you may even need to do something similar with a little extra bar spacing at the near end as well as the very ends of the bars extending closer to the player than the near bar posts would tend to knock together because of the relative angle of the adjacent bars. The alternative might be to make the near ends of the bars slightly wedge shaped - remove the corners a little.
My 2 cents!
I got this feedback from another marimba builder:
"One design that I saw actually used wedge-shaped notes, which will work fine if they are suspended at the right points. However, I would think that the tuning of partials on these notes would be impossible."
Mmmm I have made similar comments to this to others I have discussed this design with. Maybe not impossible but certainly more difficult. I suspect the wedge shaped bars would lend themselves to producing some unwanted torsional modes and cross tones. I am not a fan of the wedge shaped bar idea.
answers by Jim MCCarthy - 28/02/2008
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