Like any good story, every musical note has a beginning, middle, and end. To make a coherent plot, you’ll have to make some decisions to bring it all together. Making your part fit within the overall musical narrative is the goal after all. You must decide which Articulation (beginning), Length (middle), and Release (end) to use for every note. Do this by listening carefully to the ensemble and/or knowing the appropriate musical style. And as a soloist without an ensemble, you may have to make decisions simply based on taste. Too many times percussionists are perceived as mere rhythmic technicians. These concepts apply to all percussion instruments. So as a musician that happens to play percussion, a thoughtful approach to these three areas can instantly elevate your level of musical performance.
The Beginning. Articulations include tenuto, accent, marcato, legato, and staccato. If it’s long, try tenuto or legato. Short notes, try marcato or staccato. Of course, tenuto and marcato are the heavier ones in their category. Accents are merely one-note dynamic changes using legato strokes. Listen to the tonguing or weight of bow strokes to determine which articulation you might use. For more information, check out PAS Educators’ Companion.
The Middle. The length of the gesture following the articulation is determined by the note length. Short articulations typically have short lengths and vise versa. However, short articulations can also have long lengths. Determine the length by matching the gesture to the rhythm. Watch this video of Dame Evelyn Glennie to see it in action: https://youtu.be/lbAWttDbrg0
The End. Finding the perfect way to approach note endings can seal the deal. Sometimes it’s best to let a note ring- simply lift and move on. Or let it ring and dampen later after a certain period of time. Maybe you’ll want to dampen it rather quickly. There are many ways to do dampen- use your hand, another mallet, your gut, or a pedal. Take time to experiment with various methods. Check out David Freidman’s vibraphone book for ideas.