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Four Solos for the Beginning Marimba Player

Updated on May 15, 2016

So You Want to Play Marimba!

Or maybe your kid does. Or your Sister. Or your mother.

Regardless of who you are reading this article for, you'll find it's content useful. These solos address two, three, and four mallet solos aimed at the beginning student. All selections include a Youtube Performance and information as to where to buy the sheet music.

Two Mallet Pieces

Four mallet technique can be very difficult for the beginning student so the majority, if not all, percussion teachers will start the student on a two-mallet piece.

Two of the five solos to be introduced are two mallet pieces:

  • Etude V (page 64) from Morris Goldenberg's "Modern School for Xylophone"
  • Etude 1955 by Earl Hatch

Etude V

Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba, Vibraphone (Morris Goldenberg Classics)
Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba, Vibraphone (Morris Goldenberg Classics)

Designed for any mallet instrument the Etude V is a fun piece to start out on. It's short and sweet and helps to address quite a few basic rudiments, such as rolls, and stays within two octaves, making it a perfect piece to play on a practice marimba.

I cannot recommend the book it's contained in enough either. There are plenty of other fun etudes inside for a student to study, learn, and sight read (a very important musicianship skill) from. The "Goldenberg book" has been used by generations of orchestral mallet players to develop their skills. It also includes excerpts of major orchestral repertoire for keyboard percussion instruments. Stickings are also addressed: the original stickings are in uppercase letters, and the added stickings are in lowercase. This edition, edited by Tony Cirone, includes phrasings that were inherent in the music but not specifically written out. It is one of the primary sources for keyboard percussion players to learn technique and orchestral repertoire.


Etude 1955 by Earl Hatch

Available through Steve Weiss
Available through Steve Weiss | Source

Etude 1955

This two mallet piece by Earl Hatch is quite impressive. In fact, I am quite partial to his compositions (especially this collection) as his music, this particular piece to be exact, was the first I ever played on a mallet instrument. It has a very 'Halloween- Esque' feel to it, modulating briefly here and there to give the melody some flavor. The piece does have some dynamic contrast to it (as a musician would hope to and expect to have within a contemporary piece) and throws the beginning mallet player into the world of triplets. I've found that the majority of my students prefer this solo in comparison to some other two mallet pieces I've introduced them to and that they all have picked up on it fairly quickly.
The book Etude 1995 is contained in, Challenge I, is a most excellent collection of pieces by master teacher, Earl Hatch, published through Studio 4 Music. The collection includes Furioso and Valse in D Minor, Capriccio Marimba, Dance of the Hippolollipops, Etude 1955 and Habanera.

Three Mallet Marimba

On the way up to four-mallet solos some teachers prefer to make a stop along the way to a three mallet piece: A piece with two mallets in one hand and one mallet in the other. The advantage to this is that not only is it easier to add one mallet at a time, but it is also easier for the student to draw out the melody with the one mallet instead of wrestling with two in each hand.

Available through Steve Weiss
Available through Steve Weiss | Source

Dance of the Hippolollipops

This fun piece, Dance of the Hippolollipops, was also written by Dr. Earl Hatch and can be found in the same collection as the Etude 1955. It's the perfect piece to introduce a new, third, mallet. The late Dr. Hatch was actually a percussionist for Walt Disney studios and can be heard playing Bass Marimba in Disney's "The Sound of Music". This is a tune that will make the audience tap their toes to and one that the student will look forward to learning.

In fact, when I was first learning this (years ago) I decided to memorize it. To this day I am still grateful I did (although I do have to brush up on it once in a while) because it is an instant crowd pleaser and creates a more lively atmosphere, whether it be in the home or at a party. Perhaps this is due to the child-like innocence of the song, as many have mentioned to me that it reminds him or her of Winnie the Pooh, or perhaps it is due to the music is being simple, but fun to listen to. Either way, it's a keeper. I know quite a few professionals who enjoy playing this one as well.

Yellow After the Rain

Standard repertoire for four mallet marimba, this piece is often heard at solo ensembles across the United States.

Yellow After the Rain

Yellow After The Rain for Marimba
Yellow After The Rain for Marimba

Mitchell Peters is former principal timpanist and percussionist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He has composed well-known pieces for the marimba for both the beginning and intermediate mallet player. Peters has said that these works were composed because he felt that there was a lack of musically interesting material that would introduce his students to four-mallet marimba techniques. Several of his snare drum and timpani etude books are in common use as well. He began his career in the army orchestra. He later was principal percussionist of Dallas Symphony before taking the principal percussion position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1969. When principal timpanist William Kraft retired in 1981 to pursue his career as a composer, Peters stepped up to assume the role as the timpanist, a position he occupied through the Los Angeles Philharmonic's 2005/2006 season. Peters is well known for his prodigious sightreading ability. Peters became the applied percussion teacher at California State University Los Angeles shortly after joining the LA Philharmonic. During his tenure as the timpanist, he took the position as Professor of Percussion at the University of California, Los Angeles. He continues to teach at UCLA where he gives private lessons to students and leads the UCLA Percussion Ensemble.

Standard repertoire for four mallet marimba, this piece is often heard at solo ensembles across the United States. Written by Mitchell Peters, a composer well known in the marimba world for beginning to intermediate mallet instrument compositions, Yellow After the Rain is a perfect introduction to four-mallet technique and yet another piece that can be pulled out for background music at a reception.



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