Complete Percussionist 1There is a general lack of material written about chordal playing on mallet instruments. There are, to be sure, a lot of pieces per formed by mallet players that include chordal playing, but little is understood in terms of how to create chords on the instrument. Choosing a chord voicing is like choosing a note in an improvised line. Choosing notes for a voicing is not only a matter of deciding where the notes are to be played, but also realizing what effect and impact that voicing will have on the music. Take, for example, a major triad. The standard way of voicing a major triad is in a closed root position—where the outer two notes are less than an octave apart.

This voicing is perfectly acceptable, but should not be your only choice for voicing a triad. An alternative to the closed-position voicing would be to play an open-position voicing where the outer two notes are more than an octave apart. The following piece is a series of major triads in open position.

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Now go back and play this same progression in closed position. Be aware of the totally different effects between the open-position voicing and the closed-position voicing.

You can also play this progression by arpeggiating the chords either up or down.


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You can also take the open position chord voicing for the major triad and apply it to the minor triad.Complete Percussionist 4Now play the following progression.

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I have also included all the possible combinations of playing this triad. As you play through these combinations, be aware of the different kinds of effects that rearranging the notes has.

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Make sure that as you play through these triads you’re aware of what chord you’re playing, the sound quality of the chord, and the visual shape of the chord.

The next piece combines both major and minor triads, along with their inversions (an inversion of a chord is when any note other than the root is played as the bass note). The standard nota tion for an inversion is a slash mark — where the letter is above the slash indicates the triad or chord and the letter below the slash indicates the bass note (not the root of the chord). A chord symbol like C/E means that you play a C triad wtih an E, or third, of the chord in the bass. The symbol F-/Ab means that you play the F minor triad with an A-flat in the bass. It is not unusual to see this kind of chord symbol where the bass note is not a chord tone in the triad above it i.e. Ab/G where an A flat major triad is played over a G bass note or E/ F where an E major triad is played over an F bass Note.

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