Sounds Effects with Percussion and Marimba

Kevin Lucas • GoodVibesJuly 2021 • July 10, 2021

Most of my previous articles have been about intense musical topics. So, I decided to write something fun for your students for this month. We are going to explore special effects with percussion and marimba. Over the years, in an effort to be innovative in my music videos and recordings, I have used existing ideas and I have also invented some new ones. Here are some of the techniques and mallets I have used:

Tuned Wine Bottles

For my Greensleeves video, I filled nine wine bottles with varying amounts of water. I tuned each one to the diatonic key that I was performing in. I had to keep adding or subtracting different amounts of water until I got the desired pitch. In the end, I was able to get close on every one of them. Deviations in the thickness of the glass prevented me from getting precise A-440, but the overall unique and cool sound overshadowed any slight inconsistencies. I found that using a triangle beater was the best striking device. I suspended the bottles from an overhead rack using string and rubber bands as to not mute the natural tone of the bottles. Your students can view my end result on YouTube, entitled “Greensleeves” by Kevin Lucas Orchestra.

PVC Pipe Marimba

Still from Kevin Lucas music video

In 2017, the Southern Illinois University School of Engineering constructed a marimba made of PVC pipes for my remake of “Africa” by Toto. The pipes were tuned by cutting them to different lengths and the pitches were tuned to A-440. The instrument is huge, and they even made a bass version of the instrument, so I had two on stage. I went through a process of trying to find the right mallets to bring out the natural fundamental of the pipes. After much searching, I found that flip flops were the best because they covered the entire hole and sealed off the air, and the sound is actually made when the flip flop releases itself from the pipe hole. You can also view this video on YouTube. It is titled “Africa” by Kevin Lucas Experience.

Slap Mallets by Emil Richards

These mallets are made for the marimba. They make an amazing slapping sound. It is meant to be a cool effect, so the loss of fundamental pitch is worth the cool sound that is made. The challenge of playing with these mallets is that there is absolutely no rebound, so your students will have to muscles out every stroke. It’s exhausting but very cool! I use them in my second marimba solo on my “Cahokia Winds” remake featuring folk artist Grant Maloy Smith if your students would like to hear how they sound.

Rubber Friction Mallets

Another effect for gongs are these set of rubber mallets that are meant to slide on the gong, making cool whale sounds. They are made of silicone rubber, so they last a long time. They are best used on Chinese gongs because they leave a residue on Paiste gongs. They can also be used on glass bowls for nature healing artists.

Rattle Mallets by Emil Richards

These are extremely cool mallets because they allow your students to play maracas and marimba at the same time, as each mallet IS a maraca. I used them in the third movement of “Concert for Marimba’ by Ney Rosauro since the left hand is playing straight 8th notes and it really fit the Brazilian concerto.

Playing with Mallet Shafts

During my live shows, sometimes I will play the edge of the marimba bars with the shaft of my mallet by turning the mallet upside down. It gives a really cool “bamboo” sound, and the pitches of the marimba can still be heard. It gives a very ethnic and world sound to performances. 

Bundled Dowel Rods

Promark makes a series of unique sounding rods. They can be used as a softer alternative to drumsticks on drumset, or another unique sound on the marimba or congas. There are four types of rods: hot rods, cool rods, lightning rods, and thunder rods. Hot rods are the most standard and popular. Cool rods are the softest version of the set. Lightning rods are for hard hitters. And thunder rods are for a deep bass sound on drums. During the 1990s, these rods saved drummer Dave Grohl from being excluded from an MTV
appearance with Nirvana because it was an acoustic setting, and the drumsticks were just too loud. 

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker and Tito Puente”. He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his Echoes in the Sand album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin Lucas performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994 and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed second in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

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