playing marimba = target practice

This morning I woke up with a very stiff neck, so I spent a lot of  time working on Alexander Technique, and read through a bit more of the book my AT teacher recommended. Even simply reading the words in the book helped remind my body of a more efficient way to sit and I felt my neck releasing tension as I sat there.

Core exercise, and PT for knees and muscles under and around back of shoulder blades.

Rip Tide

Warmup – improvised on theme from Love Story (don’t ask why…). I also spent some time playing target practice at the extreme ends of the marimba, with thoughtful attention to the center and length of my spine (all the way up through my neck). I did not feel the pain or tension return!

Problem spots- mm. 80-86 at 90bpm; mm. 97-99 at 100bpm; mm. 130-134 at 100bpm; mm. 138-142 at 100bpm; mm. 158-165 at 95bpm; mm. 168-170 at 95bpm. Feels pretty good, wrists moving very smoothly, tension feels minimal, am able to play notes and maintain focus on relaxed movement (not notes)… reading patterns and moving around to notes almost feeling involuntary. I think this will be more difficult when taking larger sections (especially running the whole piece), rather than just working on spots. So here goes…

run all at 150bpm (hands separate) – left hand forgets to use wrist for up/down axis sometimes, and gets tense; right hand does this too, but not as much… the issue is when moving through fast patterns that require a lot of quick arm motion back and forth between the black and white keys. However, during the patterns that are more linear, or have  multiple notes in a row on either black or white keys, I can reset myself to the more minimal arm motion…. I don’t think this is going to make sense to anyone but me… I know what I mean, so I am going to stop here. 😉

100bpm (hands together) – a lot of wrong notes; issues above actually not as bad with hands together (and much slower tempo). I think maybe the opposition of the two hands together actually equalizes the arm motion (again, I am sure this makes zero sense to anyone not in my head).



tempos are up!!

The last few days have been more of the same, but I am finally going to try getting back into 4-mallet work and Surface Drifts today. My shoulders/neck are feeling much better after a few days of light practice and focused light exercises strengthening the opposing muscles (muscles that oppose normal drum/marimba technique).

Sightread 2-mallet music

Rip Tide

Basic warmup – patterned and improvised chromatic lines, hands together moving in opposing directions 1/4 note = 80-140bpm

Pages 10-end – hands separate at 130bpm; hands together at 90bpm

Pages 8-9 – hands separate at 140bpm; hands together at 100bpm

Pages 6-7 – hands separate at 150bpm; hands together at 108bpm

Pages 3-5 – hands separate at 150bpm; hands together at 110bpm

All segments above were interrupted for a 5-10 minute break lying on the floor with knees up (feet on floor).

All tempos above are about 10bpm faster than two weeks ago when I was really working in building tempo! Sometimes, a break is needed for both physical and mental recuperation!! I also feel that this break let me focus on feeling and listening to my neck/shoulder muscles, and now coming back to the pieces fully, I think I am able to play faster because I am moving more efficiently with my arms.

Also, I got new glasses yesterday (my prescription had actually changed for the first time in many years… I can’t even remember the last time). Anyway, there was absolutely NO SQUINTING to see the music. That probably also helps minimize the neck/shoulder (and brain) tension. ;-


Surface Drifts

Started 4-mallet work with improvising, choral and free; basic 4-mallet warmup with all four stroke types

Mm. 61-end with DV block chords (slow reading, no metronome)

Wrists and shoulders were feeling tense, so I stopped playing after about 35 minutes. Need to get back into it slowly.



words of wisdom from F.M. Alexander

From Indirect Procedures, by Pedro De Alcantara… on end-gaming vs. the means-whereby principle – the most important step is the one you are currently performing. My Alexander Technique teacher, Martin Webster, recommended this book to me last week, and I just started reading it…. a must read for ANY musicians, especially those looking for alternative ways to minimize pain and injury.

I began the day by spending 15-20 minutes lying on the floor on my back, trying to recall the outward looking mentioned in my work with Martin (AT teacher). Then I applied heat to shoulders and mid-back.

My intention today is to work a bit on both Rip Tide and Surface Drift… remembering to focus on where I am in the learning process, rather than on the end-goal. Also, it is important today to take frequent breaks and do strengthening exercises, rather than stretching.



Pad work – 8s, rudimental exercises, sightread from Les Parks book


Rip Tide

Octaves up and down keyboard, focus on footwork (proper knee alignment); chromatic patterns in RH/LH simultaneously, set and improvised.

Reading through all – RH and LH separately, slowly at 1/4 note = 90bpm, focus on melody, and just getting the patterns back in my hands

Improvised 8th notes, hands separately at 1/4 note = 130bpm, focus on maintaining proper shoulder alignment

Lay on back, with knees up.

Read through all – hands together at 1/ 4 note = 80-120bpm; surprisingly, the eyes and hands are pretty well coordinated, even after not physically playing the piece for almost two weeks.


Worked on a ALL major problem spots, hands together and separately – 85-95bpm

Ran all (hands together) at 85bpm



Prep for PV Tassell recording sessions this week

Looked back through notes from last session, listened to songs that are inspiration for her tunes, determined instruments to bring, and contemplated the notes she gave me for the upcoming week.




so it continues

Weekend schedule of events…


30 minute core workout; 30 minutes on bike trainer (haven’t taken it off yet, though it is beautiful outside!)

15 minutes of shoulder/neck movement while lying on the floor, using Alexander Technique concepts

Yard work!! (and trying to not clench my jaw/tense my neck when I pulled the weeds!)

ICE on left knee and right shoulder


Basic pad work (8s, alternating RL, doubles, improvising rudimental solos, etc.)

Rip Tide

Worked each hand individually, slowly, focus on neck/shoulder tension



PT and practice

Since my routine now requires as much PT as actual practice, I will be keeping track of both aspects here. (Feel free to NOT read if this does not interest you. As a reminder, this is really a blog for my students, and other percussion students, to be able to see how I practice on a daily basis to work towards my long term performance goals. I think it is also beneficial for them to see, now, how I cope both physically and mentally with an injury due to the excesses of repetitive motion required during the process.)

The PT/exercises below are all things I have been doing over the past two weeks, in addition to lots of icing, in order to reduce inflammation and to equalize strength in arm/neck/shoulder, and knees. I should also say that the neck/shoulder issues I am currently having are not new. (The knees are a new thing, though…I suppose because I am old-ish, and I run and cycle a lot, so they have gotten quite a bit of abuse too.) Anyway, I have struggled with the shoulder/neck issues since my undergrad years, but the inflammation in my elbow two weeks ago was a first, so kinda scary. Over the years I have done many things to rehabilitate (PT, acupuncture, chiropractic work, massage, Alexander Technique, etc.), many of them incorporated again now.

The most frustrating part of all of this is that these issues probably wouldn’t come back if I had/made the time to continue doing all the appropriate PT on a daily basis (every day of my entire life). I always stretch and exercise, but not always with the correct intentions or knowledge or focus that would protect my body from repetitive motion injuries. The other issue is that it is not easy to maintain focus on neck tension while playing/practicing intently.


30 minutes – knee focused yoga (I also have knee problems, that sometimes flare up without regular focused exercise. A few months ago I started doing this because I felt my knees getting strained when I bent them to reach the high end of the marimba in the first line of Surface Drifts…the knees are much better now, but these focused knee exercises must continue to keep it that way!) Here is the video I am using for knee yoga.

30 minutes – shoulder/neck/wrist focused yoga. Here is the video I am using for shoulder/neck/wrist yoga.

15 minutes lay on back with knees up, moving arms (wrist, elbow and shoulder joints in isolation, and together) while focusing on minimal tension in the neck (taken from Alexander Technique)

1.5 mile walk, focus on stride, shoulders down back, and maintaining minimal tension in neck

Getting on the instruments

Pad work – 8-on a hand; 8th-notes (RLRL) alternating with double bounces maintaining arm motion tempo, focus on minimal tension in neck.

Marimba work – working from center, playing RH, then LH up and down keyboard, again with focus on minimal tension in neck – this get difficult (to maintain lack of tension, at times I am cupping the back of my neck with one hand while I am playing with the other.


dealing with tennis (or marimba) elbow

I’ve had to take some time off these past two weeks to recover from a pretty nasty bit of tendonitis in my right shoulder and elbow. I have also been on the road a bit, and away from my instruments. As hard as it was to do, I applied REST and ICE! I’ve also been getting acupuncture and massage regularly.

Only in the last few days have I started to do gentle playing on the drum pad, and only stick work. I have yet to put 4-mallets back in my hands. (My self-assessment is that the 4-mallet work is what caused the flare of tendonitis and inflammation, so I am really waiting on this.)

In my physical downtime, I have been doing mental practice (visualizations of the music, and just reading the sheet music with my eyes) and working through some aspects of both Surface Drifts and Rip Tide. For Surface Drifts, I thought through several interpretations of the grace note figures… the one I finally choose will be determined by whether I want the simultaneous LH and RH grace note figures to both be played with a steady rhythm, or if I want each line (RH vs. LH) to have some rubato. I’m not sure yet, as I have only worked it out in my head and on paper… we’ll see when I actually try to play the different interpretations. Some of these grace note figures include 20+ notes in each hand, and they are notated in linear (not composite) patterns, so I feel that they should be heard as two separate lines being played simultaneously. However, in order to execute them, I will have to understand the composite rhythm of the two hands played together, and it will be my job to make them sound like two separate lines with appropriate articulation and phrasing. These grace notes are definitely the most technically and musically challenging aspect of the piece, so it has actually been good to be able to spend time just looking at and thinking about them without playing.

I will return home tonight, so I will get back to physically practicing tomorrow. The trick will be to not get back into it too quickly.