Teach Your Students to Thrive and Survive as a Marimba Player

Kevin Lucas • GoodVibesMay 2021 • May 4, 2021

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When I went to college, I got the impression that there were so many opportunities for such a seemingly obscure instrument. My first two degrees were in percussion performance and my main instrument was the marimba. As I got into the real world, the reality of the challenges ahead became more apparent. It seemed as though I may just as well have gotten my degree in “advanced underwater basket weaving,” and even as an accomplished virtuoso, I kept hearing the phrase “Welcome to Walmart” in my head. But as in anything in life, your students can enjoy success with the right mindset. This article isn’t meant to destroy the hope of aspiring concert hall marimba players nor disrespect the art form. My goal is to share reality and offer hopeful insights for success for your students. Here are some helpful hints.

Become a versatile percussionist

The marimba is one of many percussion instruments. The advantage to percussion is the wide array of opportunities and styles within one ‘instrument’. No other collegiate instrument study program offers the same endless number of instruments and opportunities. Learning African drumming, timpani, jazz vibes, drum set, and all the other percussion instruments will vastly improve your students’ chances for success. When the opportunity comes to play tambourine on a movie soundtrack, your student will be ready.

Learn to compose and arrange

There are many opportunities outside of percussion in the music industry for your students to help subsidize an income. The marimba is actually a wonderful instrument to use as a composition and arranging tool. The ‘earthy’ marimba sound gives a fresh perspective for arranging and composing. Tell your students to take composition classes very seriously in college, as well as exploring on their own.

Get an education degree

Getting a degree that makes your students more marketable in the music world does not mean they have to take their first love less seriously. Even if your students never use the education degree, having it will give them security and a backup plan. I ended up getting an education degree as my third degree. I have zero regrets because it helped my overall musicianship and taught me how to better share my knowledge with students. There is also plenty of time to develop marimba skills in college if the main focus of your students’ degree program is “education.”

Learn an array of popular songs

There are always ways to earn extra income if your students learn even an hour’s worth of classic and recognizable songs, especially on a very rare instrument in the perspective of the mainstream audience. Playing “Stairway to Heaven” or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” will impress numerous audiences. There are opportunities to perform at libraries, coffee houses, nursing homes (post pandemic), restaurants, and even jazz lounges.

Be versatile in life

There is nothing wrong with pursuing different career paths while maintaining marimba chops. As a matter of fact, it can be a wise approach because your students can fund their marimba career more easily. Taking the pressure off your students in terms of “making a living” as a marimba player will help them enjoy the instrument when it isn’t their only hope for income. I have my own tile and remodeling business. It has freed up money for me to spend on recordings, hiring great artists for my projects, and having life comfort so I can enjoy my marimba career. Having an open mind to other forms of income will actually help financially free your students so they can really maximize a marimba career, as well as helping actually purchase an expensive instrument!


Teach your students to find an effective way to market themselves as a percussionist and a marimba player. Whether this marketing plan includes teaching, studio sessions, weddings, masterclasses, solo performance, or all of the above, having a plan never hurts. As I mentioned earlier, the more versatile your percussionists are in terms of the number of instruments they can play and the different types of roles they can fulfill, the greater chance for success!

View marimba as supplemental income

This ties in with being versatile in life. When the marimba isn’t the only form of income, the pressure is gone and the revenue your students can bring in is supplemental. Removing financial pressure from anything makes it more enjoyable.

Learn the piano

The marimba is very similar to a piano. Spending time in college developing piano skills will help your students get more gigs. Playing the piano at churches or weddings can be great extra income. And being proficient on the piano will only help your students’ marimba skills as it will expand their knowledge of chord progressions and melodic material, as well as independence between the right and left hand.

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 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 2nd in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.


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