How to study a new piece for marimba – Part 3

After having practiced the infallible study method I introduced you to in my last post to help you correctly learn a new marimba piece, you are finally ready to actually play in front of an audience and/or to record your beautiful CD as a soloist. Worst case scenario, your music teacher will be the only one to ever hear it; it doesn’t really matter.

First though, let a pain-in-the-neck teacher like me ask you 3 little questions:

  • Are you really ready to play this piece?
  • Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and I mean anything, of what is written on the part?
  • And finally, are you 100% sure of your performance?

Listen to me: before moving on to a new piece, finalize your study with a few more practice sessions so that you can refine the part you have just finished studying. How? By auditing your execution and preparing for your performance, as I will explain to you today.

If you missed my two previous articles, I strongly recommend you read them prior to getting into today’s post.

Let’s start!


If you have used the study method I showed you last week, you should have theoretically memorized basically the whole piece. Although memorization was not essential, you should have noticed that by extensively practicing the piece and by focusing on the individual parts, you no longer needed to read the notes.

However, there is a catch: you might have made mistakes in the memorization of a note, a rhythm, an articulation, anything really. You might have even forgotten to study an entire line or section. It happened to me…

How can you know for sure at this point? Easy. Go over the part and try to play it slowly with the help of a metronome while you read note by note.

Santa marimba
Santa marimba

Santa Claus – marimba

This can be tough because your muscle memory will try to take over your body, completely bypassing your brain… in other words, your hands will want to”go on their own” on a sort of autopilot.

At this point, trying to control what you are doing is rather difficult. It is somewhat like thinking about breathing: unless you are used to it, like for example if you regularly practice yoga, thinking about breathing will initially make the actual breathing process hard. This is because breathing is an automatic process.

In the same manner, playing a piece you have memorized is also an automatic process. I already talked about this in my old post “Muscle Memory”.

Let’s recap: check the whole part again concentrating on the reading of the notes and don’t rely exclusively on your memory. If you realize you have made a mistake or you have forgotten something, regain control of your body so that you can fix what is wrong or missing.


A thousand articles have been written on how useful recording yourself can be to verify the quality of your performance. Well, at least I think a thousand articles have been written. I myself have only read a few.

However, I am still going to restate here how important it is, because I think that recording yourself before playing a piece in public can be useful for at least two reasons:

  1. to verify once again if there are still problems with wrong notes or inaccuracy.
  2. To see if your overall performance feels convincing to you.

The first reason can appear redundant, I realize it. However, sometimes it is only by listening to yourself that you can notice that little note being out of key. Go over the part and you will discover that little note was in fact a different little note and that you had not realized it even as you were reading the whole piece again, as described in the previous paragraph. Darn little note.

Second reason: you know what happens when you hear a recording of your voice, right? The first time is always shocking, you know that. You might think, “who is this person speaking in such an idiotic way…? Welcome Johnny, that idiot is you.

Well, sometimes hearing your own marimba performance can produce a similar effect. Some of your possible reactions might be, for example:

  • “Come on, do I really play that fast?”
  • “Am I using mallets that are too hard?”
  • “The way I am playing this part really stinks!”
  • “Wow, how cool! I am really good!!!”

Unfortunately this last sentence gets rarely spoken.

If by this point I have been successful in convincing you that recording yourself can be extremely useful, I am also going to tell you that you don’t need fancy technology to do that. The music technology market is already flourishing thanks to people like me, don’t worry…

As I was saying, since recording yourself can be extremely useful to you for listening and evaluating your own performance, you can use a simple recorder with a decent sound. Your smartphone is perfect, as long as you keep it far enough from the marimba and you use headphones when listening to your own performance. The marimba’s overlapping harmonies are in fact a killer for any speaker.

If you want higher quality, in other words you have money to spend, buy a digital recorder. The quality of your recording will really improve. The only requirements should be that the recorder be small (so you can take it with you in the recording studio and on stage) and that, in order to start recording, the only two keys you have to press are “on” to turn it on and “rec” to start recording. Everything else is completely useless for your purpose and would only be a waste of time, actually a detriment to the good habit of recording yourself which I truly hope you will adopt.


Here are a few random advice for when you will have completed all the phases of the study process and you will have entered the “pre-stage” phase:

  • if you still have doubts on your performance, think again about the part; don’t bother with YouTube videos. They can be useful during the first phase, to get an idea on how to play the part. Now YOU are the one giving YOUR own interpretation of the piece; you are the one deciding what you want to communicate with it;
  • don’t leave out the “theatrical” aspect of your performance. Concerts and recitals are still shows;
  • even when you are playing alone in the room and no one is listening, imaging that you are actually performing the most important piece in your career, in front of the largest audience in your career, on the most beautiful stage in your career;
  • give 100% in all of your performances. Don’t settle for 99.9%. Admit to your mistakes only if you have actually made them, not before;
  • have fun;
  • have fun;
  • have fun.
  • And have fun!

Question: do you have any final advice to give to a student that have just finished studying a new piece for marimba?