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Our Bass Marimba - an Introduction

Being an music teacher who uses Orff-Schulwerk principles and activities quite a bit, I have always longed for some bass bars to fill out the low end of our classroom ensembles. But I couldn't quite bring myself to buy a set at $290 per note.

So when I attended the 1997 National Orff Conference in Seattle, I heard two things that blew me away: Jon Madin's workshops, in which he used his own homemade marimbas; and Walt Hampton's school group, the Rugare Marimba Ensemble, an amazing group of 5th and 6th graders playing Hampton's own compositions, which are great. But in both groups, there was this wonderful low end to the sound, coming from a beautiful, clean-sounding, comparatively compact bass marimba! I had to have one; I knew it right then and there. So I bought Jon Madin's book, Make Your Own Marimbas, and the rest is history!

(This website will present an overview of Jon Madin's design, as well as some of our modifications. Since it is his design, with only slight modifications by us, I did not feel right about including specific measurements and other things that might make his book obsolete. So if you want to construct a marimba using this design, it will still be necessary to purchase his book.)

Marimba with Bags and Cat I could never have anticipated the full impact that this instrument has had in my classroom. Its cost, size and the space that it takes up are made up for a thousand times by: the lovely, dark, deep sound that it makes; the way the kids jump for joy when they get to play it; the way that parents come up after performances and ask about it; the fact that newspapers want to interview me about it; the times that my principal brings visiting administrators down to my room to see it; I could go on and on! And all this for the mere sum of around $350, plus a lot of time and labor. If I had tried to buy a set of contrabass bars, I would have spent a minimum of $2000, which is many times my yearly budget.
(A side note: another thing that could have been done would be to get a grant for the funds to purchase contrabass bars - but I decided I would rather build one and own it myself.) I've also been told by percussion supply dealers that there are so few bass marimbas around (mainly at music schools), that if I had tried to purchase a professionally built one, it might cost as much as $40,000; And now we have one in our classroom! Bar Carving Detail
Frame Picture # 1 Now, I realize that my marimba is not professionally made, and a real percussionist might turn up his/her nose at its lack of refinement, or at the slight buzz or rattle here and there; but the kids are thrilled about it. Now they have had an aural experience that they would not have had, if I had waited years for an opportunity to buy one. They now have a real, tangible example in front of them of the massiveness of a truly low instrument.
The instrument is physics in action, neatly integrating the science of acoustics with the art of music. The sound waves vibrating from the low C are so slow (about 65-70 hz/second) that you can feel them with your bare hand. The kids think this is COOL! Sound waves are suddenly something real to them, not just a mysterious phenomenon the teacher tells them about. Bar Sanding
Large Resonators

Another recent use was for our new mallet ensemble to accompany the first graders in their concert, giving the older kids opportunities to work with the younger kids (and vice-versa) and to develop their musical leadership by taking an active role on the supporting end of a performance. It was fun to see the older kids getting a kick out of the "younger" songs that they were accompanying. The bass marimba made our mallet ensemble possible. Even if we could have created an ensemble without it, the sound would have been nowhere near as exciting.

So now we're off and running with our new bass marimba. This has been a great experience that I hope we can share with more schools out there. It's a long project and takes a lot of commitment to see through to the end; but if you do, you will never regret it. Good luck! Bar Stages

Mallet Kids

Click here to hear a sound clip of the bass marimba

Please explore more! Click on the links below or at the top of the page to learn more about the different parts of the bass marimba.

Frame | Resonators | Bars | Mallets | Cover | Accessory Bags

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Bonny Lundin-Scheer (bonnysu@outback.chi.il.us)


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