Skip to main content

I had a talk with Stefon Harris a while ago. I don't think I've talked about it here yet.

The argument is this: The piano is part of the percussion family but percussionists don't learn piano. The piano is in a performing way, NOT part of the percussion family at all. It requires a lot of dedicated and unrelated skill and has moved out of the percussion family. Not how it's made of course, or the mechanisms that make the sound but in a performance way.

The vibes are sort of the same. It seems to me that pro vibe players are not percussionists, we are more keyboard players. In fact many of us probably decent piano and very little 'percussion'.

Stefon thinks that like the piano, if it's brand is taken out of the percussion family more of the other players (i.e. string players, wind players) will check out and play the vibes. I'm not sure if I totally agree with that, however Stefon is really smart so it's part of this idea to think about.

To be honest I have trouble thinking of the vibes with their history as part of the percussion family (except for how they produce sound). I think in a way the drum set is the same. Not all percussionists play drum set (and play it well). It's usually Drums or percussion. However with the marimba, a lot of marimba players play percussion also. Or more than with the drums or the vibes.

What do you think?


John Keene Fri, 10/09/2015 - 16:15

I think it has only been in the last 50 years that vibraphone has gravitated to a pianistic approach. I don't tend to think 'piano' when I hear vibraphone pre-1967.

Steve Shapiro Sat, 10/10/2015 - 00:44

By a strict definition, some people say that if it is struck then it is a percussion instrument. That is why piano can be put into this category. I would suggest that it is hard to generalize about this because it really depends upon the style of music. For example, in concert music the vibes usually function much more like percussion, even in very contemporary pieces. However in jazz and pop music things work differently. Even if you go back to Hamp who had a very percussive approach, it was not unlike the style of pianists of that time such as Earl Hines. By the time you get to Milt, Victor Feldman, and Gary Burton the vibes are clearly NOT functioning like a percussion instrument.

I think there is a special category that you could call pedal instruments which includes vibes, piano and harp. Even though the harp has strings it is not considered in the same category as a violin or guitar, right? Like a harp, you can almost pluck a vibraphone. I think this is why they used to call it a vibraharp (which is a cool name). Mon, 10/26/2015 - 13:01

The role of Soloist, albeit the Vibe or piano virtuoso , tend to have a leader mentality. They usually control tempos and textures that best supports their leadership role in the music. That oversight tends to take a person (and the music they produce) outside the realm of the role of percussionist (servant) and drops them into the role of conductor. In the case of solo piano, well you perform every role: Conductor /Arranger /Composer* (*especially if you miss the coda!) Performer, roadie / etc. You are the Leader. People follow good leaders and while good leaders are servants in many ways, good percussionist are not always good soloist / conductors. (Not that a person cannot be good at both, I know many who are)

The role of percussionist is more of servant. Providing the base and bed for the performer to best exchange the musical ideas and concepts established in the music is the role of the percussionist. Too many percussionist, however, view themselves as soloist when their mindset should be one of service. Those that understand this service concept, work more than most.

Most competent* (*read that successful) soloist know the value of their accompaniment and make sure they feel appreciated. Excellent percussionist also understand their importance to the music, a servants' heart is satisfied to serve alone. Percussionist who understand this concept also work more than most.

So while I do agree that there is a real difference between the vibe, piano, and percussionist role in music, the real deciding components may have to do more with the leadership roles taken by the individual in the music, than the evolution of the instrument itself.

*Will Hanson has been in Music Education since 1975. Currently with Hickeys Music Center, Ithaca, NY as Educational Service Representative.


What instruments does this pertain to?

Lesson Category