Skip to main content

I POSTED THIS OVER A WWW.LARRYSIMPROVPAGE.COM A WHILE AGO. THOUGHT I SHOULD PUT IT UP HERE! ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Setting up and packing up is a total drag.

  • A total $%^$& Drag. Nobody probably told you about setting up and packing up.You'll be concerned about it soon enough. Nobody explained to you that setting up and tearing down sucks, and if you're new at this, 20 years from now, this will be a huge deal. Nobody told you that that cool set of vibes that folds up into 20 pieces will actually lose you money down the road. That is when you have doubles and triples and can't make them because your set up time is more than 5 or 10 minutes! Also the motor makes the instrument heavier! Add back problems to that and some of you are going to remove the motor not only because Burton doesn't use it, but because you're in pain lugging the thing around. (Maybe they're lighter now?) BTW- The most useable instrument for gig hounds I've seen to date is the Malletech Omega or musser M-55. It packs up just into 3 boxes. It's bigger than other instruments packed up but it's more portable. The ones that break up into more pieces take longer to set up. I can set my Musser up in about 3 minutes if I rush.

2. Forget the soft sticks, get used to the hard ones.

  • Nobody explained to you that on most of your gigs you will have to beat the crap out of the vibes to get minimal sound out to the audience. I've gone through it with many students. They find a pair of soft mallets that sound beautiful.... and they do. However, playing in a club they are useless. You need to be able to get your sound with hard mallets. Yes there's the K&K system and it's great, but it's a different sound completely from an acoustic set.

3. Nobody told you about the ringing in your ears.

  • The vibraphone is a loud instrument. It will do some damage to your ears over time. And hard mallets are part of the problem. So use soft mallets... but you won't be heard... so use hard mallets... then your ears... then use soft ones. Try ear plugs. I have a pair in my bag but I've never been able to get used to them. I use them on the Latin gigs which tend to be very loud and fun! You'll most likely develop some tinitis. Most of us do. The trick is to play music when you go to sleep, put a computer in your bedroom and leave it on (the fan helps the ringing), and wear ear plugs (if you can deal with them).

4. Forget technique, it's all about the ears..

  • Actually don't forget about technique, I just wanted to make a point. Ears ARE more important than technique if you're going to be an improviser. When your ears get better your technique gets better, however the opposite is not always (usually) true. I've seen lots of players with good technique but their ears did not follow. And you know what, if your ears are great and your technique isn't... you can still be a great improviser. It happens all the time. Don't sacrifice the ears for the chops.

5. You can play bad on this instrument and still work.

  • There are many inadequate players gigging on this instrument. A friend of mine (non vibe player) does a funny trick. He takes four mallets and closes his eyes and then plays a random 4 note voicing. Every voicing he plays sounds great. So, you can be mediocre if you want, you'll still work. Everybody loves the vibes. It's amazing to see some of the people I've seen playing vibes getting applause. On the other hand there are some really truly (known and unknown) great vibe players out there. They're doing incredible things with the instrument and it's an inspiration to listen to them. I'm talking about professionals here, not amateurs, not students not someone just learning the instrument. I'm talking about players who are spokespeople for the instrument. We pros have to at least be competent on the instrument. Most of us are not going to make the top 10 list, but we can still play the instrument well. IMHO

6. What grip should you use?

  • Check out Gary Burton, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Mike Mainieri. They all play with totally different grips. And they're all monster players. So which grip is best. Hey I left out Leigh Howard Stevens and KEIKO. How you hold your sticks DOES NOT matter. All this talk about how to hold the sticks and why is nonsense. Buy into any of the grips and just go. They all work great, just find the one that suits you. I have a student that plays the Burton Grip and one that uses the Stevens grip. And Yes I do try and convert them all to the (ahem) Miceli Stoned Grip!

7. Partners - You better find a partner that tolerates vibraphones all over the place.

  • By the time you're my age (56 now 2017) you will have a couple or a few instruments. You will find a way to leave your gigging vibes near the front door.

8. Hunching over the instrument looks cool, and you can focus, but you'll pay with pain down the road.

  • Carry Tylenol and try to play with good posture. I can't do it.

9. The Players:

  • Everybody talks about Burton, Milt, Bobby and Stefan, but has anyone told you about Teddy Charles, Victor Feldman, Lem Winchester, Peter Appleyard or Mike Manieri? And there's so many more!

10. If you don't worship the instrument, sell it, burn it or throw it off a cliff.

  • (If you throw it off a cliff, video it and put it on Youtube, you'll get LOTS of views. To be great on this instrument will take hours and hours and hours of practice. You need to be obsessed with it, to even get in the ballpark of great. Why play it half assed when you can work hard and play it great!!

11. Did anybody tell you how important it is to learn standards? And MEMORIZE THEM!

  • It seems like a lot of us were never told about this. However for most jazz vibe players either you'll know a bunch of standards or you'll play the same 12 over and over. Things will get boring pretty quick. LEARN HOW TO LEARN HOW TO LEARN STANDARDS. After you learn a bunch, you'll see the same things over and over. When you study one tune you're studying a 100 other ones. Think I'm joking? The 'a' section to 'A Train' is the same as Girl from Ipanema and So Danca Samba. Learn how to play over 'A train and you can play over those as well. And the bridge to 'A Train' is almost the same as the tune 'Move'. Remember I said almost! Good Bait is rhythm changes in 2 keys (the a section). Oh yeah, the beginning of 'Donnalee' is almost the same as 'A train'.

12. Has anyone told you to play everything in 12 keys.

  • Ok I'll tell you, play everything in 12 keys. Get comfortable with all the chords in all the keys. Get you ears used to transposing melodies and moving things around. Why? Because when you improvise honestly and from your own 'personal' vocabulary you will have to translate what's going on in your head to the instrument. That takes great ears and being comfortable in all keys. A vibe player once made fun of me for playing things in 12 keys. That's soooo silly. 14. Has anyone showed you the quick way to change the string on your bars. Don't take your bars off when you restring them. Change them before they break and sew the new string to the old string with STRONG thread. Then move to the other side and pull the string the old string out and the new string in. Now restringing your instrument takes about 6 minutes instead of 30 for each set. (Keep an eye out, I'm going to make a video of this!)

13. Learn how to restring your mallets.

  • Don't worry about making them look nice. If you become a professional jazz vibe player you'll be poor so why pay 60 bucks every few months for new mallets. If you're not wearing out your mallets, something is seriously wrong. BTW - many companies will restring your mallets, if you're too lazy. So if the yarn is gone and [the balls and shaft] are still good (why does that sound so stupid) then see if the company will restring them. You'll save money.

14. All in all this is an incredibly wonderful instrument to play jazz on.

  • If it's a lead instrument like a sax, it cuts through (with the right mallets) and has a very uniquie and well received sound. If you're using it as a chordal and lead instrument, chord playing the instrument is a refreshing change to the full piano or guitar sound. Comping on the vibes gives an ensemble a new and unique sound that most other musicians like soloing on top of.

15. Consistency:

  • Practicing 4 hours on Tuesday and 3 on Saturday is no where as good at practicing an hour a day. If your goal is to just 'get through' your lesson then ok, that might work. But if your goal is to be great, practice 4 hours every day!

16. Singing: Sing your solos and start today.

  • Singing is a magic potion for improvisation. If you can sing it you WILL eventually play it. Think you're a good soloist? Put on music minus one cds and sing the solos. If you've never done it before you're probably in for a shock. However work on it, in a month or 2 you'll see a big difference in both you're singing and you're playing. I'm not saying sing the words, I'm saying sing your solos.

17. Learn Piano:

  • All the great musicians I've seen come through and give workshops at the University of the Arts where I teach can sit at the piano and play pretty good. Piano is where you learn about harmony. I've learned way more about harmony, chords and soloing on the piano than on the vibes. The piano is the whole orchestra and it's where all the great people study. REMEMBER ALL THE GREAT MUSICIANS CAN PLAY PIANO.

18. Bet some of your teachers already told you this one.

  • When working on your voicings, remember you have only four mallets, when you get to 5 note voicings, let the root go first, then the fifth. Alway keep the 3rd and the seventh.

19. Did anyone every tell you who makes the most mallets in the whole world?

20. If you're playing with headphones and the cord gets in the way, get a binder clip to clip it to your shirt, or string it through a belt loop.

21. Get some shrink wrap to put on the end of the cord that runs through the bars, so that you can make that end easier to pull through and to prevent fraying later.

22. Get a sound meter app and stay below 85 DB to preserve your hearing. DecibelX is a good one.

23. If you lug your vibes around and they fold up, get a cart! The

  • RocknRoller Multi-Cart is very worth the investment. Model R14G is perfect for Musser M55. Anything to add? Disagree with anything?


mikepinto Fri, 10/10/2008 - 03:56

awesome are some of my thoughts based on your list...

1. I use the m48 traveler. It does take about 10 minutes to set up. But for me, having it break down into a million pieces is exactly what I want. the instrument fits in the trunk of a car! this allows you to drive an entire band to a gig in one car. This can be a huge benefit. I put it in some duffle bags and onto a little hand cart and lug it around.

Very true, in order to be heard you will need hard mallets. However I feel that larger head mallets project a great deal more than small head mallets. The harder albrights were great at cutting through but also providing a warm tone. However recently the Stefon harris mallet from vic firth seems to be my favorite choice for this. Its large head is light and extremely loud while also being able to be soft and subtle when needed.


This is the single MOST IMPORTANT fact on here! Its one thing to know technique and even some harmony, but without the ability to hear where that harmony is moving and what everyone else around you is playing you'll never truly get into the music. I wish someone forced this concept on me while in school because I feel like I'm always playing catch up!
I'm not just talking "ear training" as in hearing a 5th or a 3rd. I mean hearing how certain structures move to other structures and being able to identify typical movements and being able to handle uncommon movements. anyway. VERY IMPORTANT!!!!

I've been wondering actually if this is something to force or not. If someone has passion and devotion to what they are doing I feel like they would just practice because its not an option. If you have to force yourself to practice 4 hours a day, I almost feel like you should do something else? Does that make sense?

ok....its getting too late i'll try and respond more later!

anthonysmith Sat, 04/11/2009 - 13:48

In reply to by mikepinto


Just checking this out for the first time. Great list, Tony. So true, so true. I could add a few of my own thoughts, but I have to go practice now! Re: practice, Mike, you suggest that if you have to force yourself to do it, why bother? It's not coming naturally and it's not a priority, so maybe you should be doing something else. I understand what you're saying, but I respectfully disagree because I think that at the end of the day, what makes one person great and another simply adequate is WORK ETHIC. This entails practicing the things you're not good at, which does not always come naturally. There is a cerebral/analytical element to productive practicing--assessing what needs the most attention, and either finding the right exercises or devising the right exercises to facilitate growth. I don't know about you, but there are days that I'd rather sit on the couch and watch TV. I just don't feel like motivating myself to work on my instrument (piano or vibes). If I'm REALLY not feeling it, I'll go with the flow and shine practicing that day, accepting the consequences--I lost a chance to work on my instrument. But I try to fight that laziness, because that's precisely what it is: laziness. Laziness breeds mediocrity. Plus, once I actually get warmed up and start digging in to practicing, whatever the materials might be, I start to enjoy it. It's the getting started that can be a challenge. It's like going to a cocktail party, at your wife's behest, with people you've never met before and who work in a different field. Tough to get motivated for that one! Once you get there and have a little wine, however, you usually manage to have a decent time.

So I hear you...if you're really having to struggle just to find the energy to play and practice, then maybe you're barking up the wrong tree. But on the other hand, anything you do, if you aspire to eventual greatness, is going to entail a lot of grunt work. As they say in writer's circles, the most important rule of being a writer: "ass in chair." In other words, sitting in a chair every day for six hours and writing. I guess for us, it's "mallets in hands."

Marie-Noëlle Mon, 10/13/2008 - 10:50

I had read this post on Larry’s, and always wanted to comment on it. Maybe it’s time now!

If those points were all made to discourage the potential future vibists... then it’s really well done!! :o)

As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather you amend or take off paragraph 7... If you’d like to appeal "silly good looking girls", I’d suggest you more to buy a Ferrari or a Porshe than a guitar or a vibes... :o)

And if you think you haven’t attracted the women you would have liked to, this is surely because at gigs, you had forgotten to put on... your incredible tee-shirts!! :o)

Finally, as for your remark on Joe Locke, if you, Tony Miceli, think he is "really cute"... Huh, then maybe there is a part of you we all had not realized...

My 2 cents ;o)

David Friedman Fri, 01/01/2010 - 08:46

In reply to by tonymiceli

Your list is pretty complete Tony. The only thing missing is; bring a picture of a vibraphone with you when you leave home. When traveling by train, plane or at social events, when asked what you do professionally and then what instrument you play, NOBODY knows what a vibraphone is! Either you say it's the instrument Lionel Hampton played or you show them the picture. That's the sad reality.

David Friedman Fri, 01/01/2010 - 08:40

In reply to by Marie-Noëlle

Marie, you're wonderful! You have this incredible gift of hitting the proverbial nail on the head, getting down to the point! Plus you're extremely funny!!! I'm sitting here having breakfast (at 2:37 in the afternoon.... I was out late!) and laughing out loud. Thanks!

Marie-Noëlle Fri, 01/01/2010 - 09:30

In reply to by David Friedman

I had nearly forgotten this post of Tony: great one huh? But did you look at the date: september 2008!

Great it made you start well the day/month/year/decade! :o)

- M

P.S.: Hmm... maybe I should follow your advice and have a picture of a vibraphone on me too! I'm sometimes sorry to have to describe it and make people imagine what it really looks like... ;o)

Philippe Fri, 01/01/2010 - 10:02

Great true to fact stuff + amusing comment from Marie. I've solved the problem of packing-unpacking by buying a car that's adapted to the instrument : the Renault Kangoo. It's not exactly as slimlined as a Porsche, and it's the car that French postmen use (my daughter refuses to be seen in it), but it's very handy. I can still heave the vibe in and out single-handed. With help from a friend, it's easier. From several friends,I stand there and watch. I usually gang with guys younger than myself. When they have taken care of the vibraphone (a Vanderplas, in one piece, is quite heavy), they can unload my drums and the P. A., while they are at it.

tonymiceli Sat, 03/23/2013 - 10:13

At this time we're talking about posts and stuff. Make sure you know how to restring the instrument easily. Look at step 14 here.

tifoo Sat, 03/23/2013 - 14:00

In reply to by tonymiceli

don't get a bergerault !
they are nice to pack (the bars stay on the instrument, you save a lot of time packing)
I get my vibes pack in 30sec (tubes and pedal off, that's it)
but... the stairs are a problem ;o)
and the string :o(

Babu Sun, 03/24/2013 - 07:20

In reply to by tonymiceli

I saw once a Bergerault owner restringing with that manner. (it's the same way electricians change wires too...). Very quick and easy.

Steve Shapiro Sun, 03/24/2013 - 10:24

Wow, Tony great list! Well, you obviously have more than ten items... and I can add some more. Over the years, I have thought about this topic a lot.

#101- Standing up. I've tried to use a stool or something to practice in the past, but it never feels right. So we always have to stand to play. This is an exception to almost EVERY other instrument. I used to be so jealous of guitar players who could turn off their amp and run scales while they watch TV, just to keep their fingers in shape.

#102- Ripped skin. If you play Burton grip, get ready to rip the skin off the callous on your index finger on a regular basis. I always remember having this conversation with Pat Metheny when I was young, and him saying that one reason he quit the vibes was that he hated ripping up his finger all the time. Seems he made the right choice...

#103-Playing out. The packing up problem is one reason it can be hard to play on a regular and casual basis with other players. I admire those guys who just show up at clubs with their vibes, but I could never bring myself to do that unless I was invited. It is really hard for us vibists when it comes to joining casual jams, etc. But the thing is, the MOST important thing is playing with really good players as much as possible. Way more that practicing 4 hours a day, or learning tunes in different keys, in my opinion.

#104-Small Pool. One of the few *advantages* of playing the vibes is that there is usually a smaller pool of other players, so it may be easier to stand out. Unfortunately, the other side of this is that hardly anybody NEEDS a vibist. If you are a real good bassist, you will get called for a lot more gigs.

#105-Leading your own gigs. See #104... Get into doing this, cause you will have to do it a lot if you want to play!

Steve Shapiro Sun, 03/24/2013 - 23:37

In reply to by tonymiceli

Yeah, this is a kind of cool thing that not too many people know... but I believe Pat started early wanting to play vibes, because he was so into Gary's music. Then he switched, for one reason cause he realized that he'd probably never get to play with Gary unless he played a different instrument. That might not be exactly correct.. but I definitely had this conversation with him when I was about 17, and he said he used to play vibes, and we talked all about the grip thing. I remember it well cause he was very nice to me. At the time, I hung out at a lot of jazz shows and most cats were not all that friendly to teenagers.

mikek Fri, 02/03/2017 - 22:58

Great list! Funny but true.
I'm curious about #14 I've tried to sew the ends together (& I can sew) but haven't had any luck. Have you ever done the video demonstrating it? I sure would appreciate.

Wes Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:08

I love this list so much! I'm not gonna lie...I'm a #5. Drum set guy drawn to vibes over time, spent last summer learning a few tunes in all keys, now completely hooked on the instrument and trying to stop sucking.

On the subject of hearing, I couldn't agree more. A few years ago I got an ultimatum from my wife and decided that hearing aids were cheaper than a divorce. Would love to chat more on this topic with anyone who suffers from noise-induced hearing issues. @Tony, thanks for this incredible community!

tonymiceli Fri, 12/15/2017 - 11:58

In reply to by Wes

yes my ears have taken a beating. i feel it now. not at hearing aids yet, but i imagine it's coming soon.

if you are a young musician, you make the choice. earplugs now? hearing aids later. some version of that.

Tylerblanton Wed, 06/06/2018 - 16:02

In reply to by tonymiceli

I wear ear muffs when I practice. Never got comfortable with earplugs on gigs though I should. I would have killed my ears in college practicing 8 hours a day in a little room without ear muffs. It's more amount of time spent exposed to loud noise, right? I hope....

Michael DuBick Fri, 12/15/2017 - 23:06

In reply to by Wes

Unfortunately, several years ago at age 65, my hearing sufficiently deteriorated to the point that hearing aids were necessary. It took some time to adjust them so that at gigs the louder brass instruments didn't overwhelm the hearing aids. Also, initially, the sound of the third octave of the vibes sounded terrible. Again, more adjustment with a very patient audiologist who has worked with musicians before. I regret not using ear plugs to protect my ears decades ago, but that's history. By the way, I sometimes remove the hearing aid at gigs and use custom made ear plugs (again courtesy of my audiologist) when the instrumentation has a lot of brass. Oh well...

rogersvibes Wed, 06/06/2018 - 16:13

In reply to by Michael DuBick

Any thoughts on when it's too late to save yours ears? When did you first start noticing a problem? I noticed about a year or two ago that I would occasionally get a little buzz in my right ear when playing loudly in the upper octave of the vibes. I always practice with headphones on now, and I try to put earplugs in on gigs, although I forget sometimes. I'm 32 and have been playing vibes for only about 6 years (but guitar for much longer).

Tylerblanton Wed, 06/06/2018 - 11:41

Great thoughts Tony!
Especially consistency at the end. An hour a day at times in my life has been more fruitful that 3 hour session four days, then a few days off. Hard to have that if you're traveling, but its good to try to get a routine going.

Babu Wed, 06/06/2018 - 15:57

In reply to by Tylerblanton

Yes. It makes me remember a Clifford Brown's interwiev a few monthes before he died (:o( )where he says he practises only 2 hours a day, but NEVER skipped a day since he was 13...

c.stallard22 Sun, 04/25/2021 - 13:48

In the vibe hang today we thought of things to add to the list:

20. If you're playing with headphones and the cord gets in the way, get a binder clip to clip it to your shirt, or string it through a belt loop.

21. Get some shrink wrap to put on the end of the cord that runs through the bars, so that you can make that end easier to pull through and to prevent fraying later.

22. Get a sound meter app and stay below 85 DB to preserve your hearing. DecibelX is a good one.

23. If you lug your vibes around and they fold up, get a cart! The RocknRoller Multi-Cart is very worth the investment. Model R14G is perfect for Musser M55.

Vibe hang peeps, did I forget anything?

gloria krolak Fri, 04/30/2021 - 13:26

If you want to hear and learn about other worthy vibe players aside from the "big names" listen to Good Vibes on the radio, the first and only broadcast program to feature the vibraphone. Celebrating 11 years!
JazzOn2 first Sunday night of the month at 8p and following Wednesday at 4p
Also at anytime.

patriciopinero Sat, 11/13/2021 - 06:56

Que linda lista !Es un puñetazo en la cara, para cargar las pilas y ponerse a trabajar !!!

Jerry Weir Tue, 06/07/2022 - 09:50

Tony, I've been a member for several years but don't remember seeing this before. So glad it rose to the surface again! You really nailed it and it is the kind of advice that I could expect from someone with your years of experience teaching vibraphone students.

I only want to add to the posture aspect. I recently went to a chiropractor because of some neck/shoulder problems. When the X-ray came back he determined that I had experienced 2 whiplash events and I had NO idea! Between working with the chiropractor and my wife being a yoga devotee I am trying very hard to fix my posture at the instrument.

It is So Hard to do!! I urge players to pay attention to posture and avoid the slouch as much as possible. For me it's a daily, conscious effort (practicing or not) to stay upright and shoulders back - not to mention my wife sneaking up behind me and pulling my shoulders back! :-)




What instruments does this pertain to?

Lesson Category