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Steve Weiss Mallet Workshop


I struggle daily with issues involving music and many of them are just typical mid-life things but one of them is that I realized late into my musical life that the vibraphone has a "falsetto-sounding" voice to me. Not only the physical range of the instrument but it's sound seems "falsetto" to me. If I were to choose another instrument, I'd pick one that has a range in the natural male voice range. Anyone else ever thought of that? Yeah... I know.. I think too much. But the vibe just sounds so...falsetto.


vibraman Sat, 03/19/2011 - 20:26

In reply to by Piper

somewhere i read or heard that gary burton said: a vibraphon is just some pieces of metal you hit with a stick. this sounds so simple and easy. can´t be that hard to play it. i try to keep this in mind because it helps me if i feel it´s too difficult to make it sound good.we all have different approaches to things. don´t know why but this was the first thing i thought when i read your post. it´s no voice it´s just think the different approaches will be heared?


Piper Sun, 03/20/2011 - 08:42

In reply to by vibraman

Playing the vibraphone is simple; playing music is more difficult and there can be many layers of depth to making music. Making the vibraphone create sound is simple compared to making sound on a violin or horn - that's the context I've always heard Gary refer to the vibe as being simple.

Playing music is a little more involved and sometimes because of the instrument's primitive, simple nature is more limiting and therefore in many ways more difficult to make subtle expressions. As you get more into the instrument, you can hear (or imagine) it mimic other instruments in order to invoke a dash more variety. When I play the vibraphone, a part of me almost always hears it as a voice - sort of. I hear that voice in falsetto.

John Keene Sun, 03/20/2011 - 08:53

In reply to by Piper

I don't know if "falsetto" is the accurate word but I think I know what you mean. The first time I ever played a 3.5 octave instrument, I found myself grooving in the "alto" range of the instrument - noodling around in an area that made use of the low C-E range. I always like that way Paul Horn used the alto flute as a solo instrument, and felt that it opened up a new area of expression with that darker quality.

I wouldn't call the vibe range as "soprano" in the way that I hear the xylophone in that range, but there is another word that covers the range between soprano and alto and I just don't know what it is.

Vince H Sun, 03/20/2011 - 13:10

In reply to by Marie-Noëlle

It's not mezzo soprano or messo soprano.

It's messy soprano. Stray notes everywhere, and then someone has to come by later to clean up all the melisma. Jeez, I hate that.

Piper Sun, 03/20/2011 - 09:05

In reply to by John Keene

Well, the influence of the high range does reflect a lot of what I'm talking about but even if it were lower... the tone quality or timbre is more of what I'm talking about being falsetto.

vibraman Sun, 03/20/2011 - 15:50

In reply to by Piper

excellent point! i completley left out this one on my thoughts!that explains my struggle with the instrument sometimes :)

about the unique sound of different players. i think some of the masters have their own sound by special lines or even sound (e.g with motor or choice of mallets) but it´s true , it´s more difficult to have unique sound as vibist than on most other instruments.having this in mind it´s really fascinating that we can still here and refer a bluesy line of milt jackson or complex 4 mallet solo of gary burton.

it´s cool to have this things in mind.

tonymiceli Sun, 03/20/2011 - 00:42

i know that when i play in other countries, i hear the accent of the language in the instrument.

tedwolff Sun, 03/20/2011 - 12:33

Hi John, I've always thought of the vibes as sounding like tuning forks - predominantly fundamental frequency with few audible harmonics. I think that is the reason it doesn't have the character and distinctive sound quality that other instruments have. It blends well with most other instruments, which is a plus, but I find it frustrating trying to get a unique sound with it. With saxophone, just hearing a few notes will often be enough to tell you your hearing Coltrane, Getz, Dexter Gordon, etc. Each player has such a distinctive sound. I don't think you could do that with vibes players. Hearing just a few notes would probably not be enough to identify Gary, Joe Locke, Milt, or anyone else.

It's one of the challenges this instrument presents I guess.

Piper Sun, 03/20/2011 - 14:15

In reply to by tedwolff

Those are excellent points Ted. Though I knew it, I never really brought the fact that the vibe blends well with everything to the conscious surface. I like that thought.

toddc Sun, 03/20/2011 - 12:52

I'm not sure if its my instrument or the instrument in general but I have a hard time liking the upper register of the vibe. I just don't like going there for some reason.

Tone plays such a large role for me in music and the tone of the upper register is hard to deal with. I think it has something to do with the envelope shape of the higher bars. But I can't prove it.

On bars below E it gets boingy too or maybe poingy. Especially if you hear the space between partials.

The axe definitely has limitations.
But the limitations are trivial compared to the music one can make with it.
Those who master the articulation techniques have a huge advantage!

Its a metal revolution :)


Piper Sun, 03/20/2011 - 14:17

In reply to by toddc

Yes Todd, but with me it's the whole darn instrument. I really don't care to hear me play it but I do like to hear others. but... I'm working my way out of that. Maybe it's like my wife said about my cooking one day. I said, "Have you ever noticed that food tastes better when someone else does the cooking"? She said, "no, it's only that way with you".. Ha!