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  • Adam Tan

2021 MARIMBA SOLOS TIER LIST: Ranking The Top 50 Marimba Solos

It's back for 2021 - my tier list of the Top 50 most popular marimba solos in the world. And I've made a few changes.

t's been over a year since I last made my 2020 Tier List video ranking these 50 marimba solos in order of difficulty.


Since then, I've listened to and learned a lot more about these marimba solos, and I've also adjudicated a range of competitions this year with many participants performing these pieces.


Before you read this, make sure you’ve watched the matching THE STUDIO episode for this tier list by clicking here. You'll hear my reasoning for every single piece's placement on this list.


It's often difficult to find your way around marimba solos these days, especially if you've never heard them or played them before.


And too often, we associate 'advanced' and 'complex' with 'good', and 'simple' and 'easy' with 'bad'.


This should never be the case with any marimba music, so I've changed the criterion for this year's tier list.


How the tier list works


I went and found 50 marimba solos under the ‘Most Popular’ category at a leading music store (not sponsored) and sorted them into the following five tiers using a modified criterion compared to 2020:

  • Likelihood of performance - how likely I'd be willing to program and perform this piece (50%); and

  • X-Factor, how interesting the piece is to me (50%).

Remember, this list is based solely on my opinion - you might place pieces in different tiers and that's okay!


S Tier (Exceptional - I must play these at some point in my life)

S Tier works are often highly respected and both musically and historically significant. If a piece is in S Tier, chances are I've either already played it many times and enjoyed it thoroughly, or I deem it to be a must play at some stage in my life. I wouldn't be surprised to see most marimba soloists with a few of these in their repertoire rotations.


A Tier (Very Good - I would be happy to play these any time)

A Tier works are also highly respected, but maybe not as significant as S Tier works. I find these to be very musically interesting and extremely safe choices for any situation. The only reason why they wouldn't be in S Tier is because they are maybe just a little bit less special than the S Tier works.


B Tier (Good - I wouldn't mind playing these, but I'm not in a rush to do so)

B Tier works are good and there's really nothing wrong with them. They are most likely widely played and common in repertoire lists and examinations around the world. Maybe they're just not as interesting, a little bit too common or they don't suit as many scenarios as I'd like.


C Tier (Okay - I would only play these if I really had to)

C Tier works are the sort of pieces that I would maybe give to students as 'starter pieces', or as exercises to work on a specific point of technique. C Tier works definitely sound kind of 'meh' to me from a musical standpoint and I think even the composers of these works know that they've written these for a specific educational purpose. Put it this way - once you've learned a C Tier piece, you will probably never play it again.

D Tier (I would just avoid these completely)

D Tier works are well... just not really up to the minimum standard. You'll find far more interesting alternatives for the works in this tier while delivering the same outcomes. It's extremely unlikely you'll find me giving these pieces to students.


Here's the completed tier list (in picture and text form)


So, here is the completed list with my personal picks for each tier.





Below is the text form of the Tier List for your convenience.


Notes

* = can be played on 4.3 octave marimba

^ = available free via public domain (e.g. IMSLP).

Entries with bulleted list are books with multiple pieces included.


S Tier (Exceptional)

Abe, Keiko

Marimba d'amore


Abe, Keiko

Works for Marimba

  • Memories of the Seashore

  • Wind in the Bamboo Grove

  • Little Windows

  • Ancient Vase

  • Variations on Japanese Children's Songs*

Abe, Keiko (compiler)

Modern Japanese Marimba Pieces 1

  • Time for Marimba* by Minoru Miki

  • Torse III* by Akira Miyoshi

  • Mirage pour Marimba* by Yasuo Sueyoshi

  • Monovalence I* by Shin-ichiro Ikebe


Cangelosi, Casey

White Knuckle Stroll*


Ewazen, Eric

Northern Lights


Glennie, Evelyn

Three Chorales for Marimba


Miki, Minoru

Marimba Spiritual


Schwantner, Joseph

Velocities


Thomas, Andrew

Merlin


Vinao, Alejandro

Khan Variations


A Tier (Very Good)

Abe, Keiko

Frogs


Arlen, Harold

Over The Rainbow (arr. for marimba by Robert Oetomo)


Bach, Johann Sebastian

Six Cello Suites


Bach, Johann Sebastian

Six Violin Sonatas and Partitas*


Cangelosi, Casey

Two Characters


Cheung, Pius

Etude in E Minor


Druckman, Jacob

Reflections on the Nature of Water


Lansky, Paul

Three Moves for Marimba


Maslanka, David

Variations on Lost Love


Miyake, Kazunori

Chain


Musser, Clair Omar

Etude in C Major, Op. 6 No. 10*


Trevino, Ivan

Strive To Be Happy*


B Tier (Good)

Aldridge, Robert From My Little Island


Bobo, Kevin

Gordon's Bicycle


Burritt, Michael Caritas


Druckman, Jacob Reflections on the Nature of Water


Ford, Mark Polaris


Glennie, Evelyn Three Chorales for Marimba


Lansky, Paul Three Moves for Marimba


Lin, Chin Cheng

Wind


Mimura, Nanae Transformation of Pachelbel’s Canon


Monkman, Jesse

Parody*


Muramatsu, Takatsugu

Land


O’Meara, Rich Restless*


Rosauro, Ney

Three Preludes for Marimba*


Sammut, Eric Libertango: Variations on Marimba


Sammut, Eric Four Rotations*


Sejourne, Emmanuel Romantica


Stevens, Leigh Howard Rhythmic Caprice


Stout, Gordon Two Mexican Dances*


Tyson, Blake A cricket sang and set the sun*


Wittiber, Benjamin

Rhythm Dance


Zeltsman, Nancy

Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba Vol. 1

  • The Zebra by Robert Livingston Aldridge

  • Over There by Carla Bley

  • Have You Met Lydia? by Ed Haddad

  • Two Piece for Solo Marimba by Anders Hillborg

  • Two Little Movements by Darren Robert Jones

  • Rifflesi di Raggi Lunari by Gaetano Lorandi

  • Beast by Steven Mackey

  • Taksim by Osnat Netzer

  • Three Small Adventures by Gunther Schuller

  • Amulet by Paul Simon

  • Dansons? by Alvina Tan

  • For Dean Primmer by Derek Tywoniuk

Zivkovic, Nebojsa Jovan Ilijas


C Tier (Okay)

Gomez, Alice

Mbira Song


Gomez, Alice

Rain Dance


Hatch, Earl Challenge I*


Hopper, Adam

Ghost Garden*


Schmitt, Matthias

Ghanaia*


Smadbeck, Paul Rhythm Song*


Smadbeck, Paul Virginia Tate*


D Tier (Avoid)

Peters, Mitchell Sea Refractions*


Peters, Mitchell Yellow After The Rain*


Zivkovic, Nebojsa Jovan Funny Marimba Book I*


Final thoughts


I really enjoyed putting together this year's tier list because I realised once I put the difficulty away, I started thinking of pieces as actual music rather than just chop burning challenges. Let me know what you think of my rankings in the comments :)


And if this tier list was helpful to you, please share it around and consider following me on the links down below.


No matter what you end up playing on marimba, make sure you enjoy playing it as much as possible.


I'm still a big marimba fan, and I still love playing it all the time. You can always catch me on THE STUDIO show or follow me @thestudiofamily on Instagram.

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