10 things Nobody Ever Told You About Playing the Vibes!
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. 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!!
12. 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'.
13. 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? Who makes more mallets than anyone else? Mike Balter.
Anything to add? Disagree with anything?