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  • Writer's pictureAdam Tan

TIER LIST: I Ranked The Top 50 Most Popular Marimba Solos In Order Of Difficulty

Playing our instrument doesn’t have to be about who can play the fastest, most accurate renditions of S Tier works. You can still have a great time performing any of these works in any capacity, whether it’s an exam, a public concert, or even just playing by yourself at home.

Before you read this, make sure you’ve watched the matching THE STUDIO episode for this tier list by clicking here. I explain my reasoning behind each piece's tier selection much clearer there.

Welcome back to another blog post from me (it’s been a while…)! Hope you’re staying safe and well during this time, whether you’re using this ‘extended holiday’ for maximum productivity or well-needed quiet time.

These days, it’s never been easier to find a solo piece for marimba. There are thousands of videos and recordings of pieces available instantly, and, with the advent of PDF scores, we don’t need to even go to a physical store to get the sheet music.

And there’s so much music available now, from modern pop-inspired works to classical transcriptions and world music adaptations. Even with the help of university repertoire lists, it’s hard to know where to start.

So here’s my attempt with my favourite way of sorting things – a 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 simple criterion:

  • Difficulty, including technical and musical difficulty (50%) and

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

S Tier (Virtuoso and/or Extremely Interesting)

In my opinion, this is the highest level of marimba music available now. S Tier works are highly respected, historically significant and are normally found in the highest division of competition and audition lists worldwide. Professional marimba soloists will always have some (or all) of these works in their ‘ready to perform’ list, and sometimes they will continually work on these pieces to further evolve their interpretations.

A Tier (Advanced and/or Very Interesting)

A Tier works are great for going beyond the intermediate level once you have established a strong technical foundation, and would be considered quite impressive in a competition, examination or concert environment.

B Tier (Intermediate-Advanced and/or Interesting)

B Tier works are the most common marimba solos that you will use for both higher university-level assessments and some public performances. They showcase a wide range of skills and can be occasionally used as etudes for personal technique and musicality development.

C Tier (Intermediate and/or Relatively Interesting)

C Tier works are often given as a ‘first real piece’ after you have mastered basic fundamentals from D Tier works and exercises. These are commonly used as assessment works in high school and early university, but can also be used in leisurely public performances and other non-competitive environments. C Tier works are also regularly used as etudes for personal technique and musicality development.

D Tier (Beginner and/or Mildly Interesting)

D Tier works are designed for the beginner player, giving a comfortable entry point into the world of concert marimba. These works focus less on interesting musicality and more on technical exercise-style writing, intentionally limiting the amount of new techniques required to successfully perform the piece. D Tier works are often used for school assessments and personal development and, in most cases, would be unsuitable for higher level assessments and performances.

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

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

Editor's correction: Variations on Lost Love should be A Tier, not B Tier.

Remember, the choices I’ve picked are purely from my own experiences and opinions, so don’t worry if your tier list looks very different to mine!

Below is the text form of the list in alphabetical order. I’ve also included any similar works that I know of from the same composer, that aren’t in the original Top 50 (marked as sim.).

S Tier (Virtuoso and/or Extremely Interesting)

Abe, Keiko Marimba d’amore (sim. Variations on Japanese Children Songs)

Bach, Johann Sebastian Six Sonatas and Partitas for Violin*

Bach, Johann Sebastian Six Suites for Cello* (sim. Lute Suites and Inventions)

Cangelosi, Casey White Knuckle Stroll

Ewazen, Eric Northern Lights

Miki, Minoru Marimba Spiritual

Schwanter, Joseph


Thomas, Andrew Merlin

Vinao, Alejandro

Khan Variations

*I recommend that you read most Bach music off the original scores, which are available for free on IMSLP. You don’t need to pay for an arrangement by a famous marimbist to play these.

A Tier (Advanced and/or Very Interesting)

Bobo, Kevin Gordon’s Bicycle

Cheung, Pius Etude in E minor (sim. Pius’ Etudes and Nocturnes)

Cangelosi, Casey Two Characters

Maslanka, David

Variations on Lost Love

Miki, Minoru Time for Marimba (from Modern Japanese Marimba Pieces 1)

Miyoshi, Akira Torse III (from Modern Japanese Marimba Pieces 1, sim. Ripple)

Sueyoshi, Yasuo Mirage (from Modern Japanese Marimba Pieces 1)

Miyake, Kazunori Chain

B Tier (Intermediate-Advanced and/or Interesting)

Abe, Keiko


Abe, Keiko

Michi (sim. Ancient Vase, Dream of the Cherry Blossoms, Memories of the Seashore, Prism)

Aldridge, Robert From My Little Island

Arlen, Harold Over The Rainbow (arr. Oetomo) (sim. Oetomo Fantasy No. 1/No.5, Pining for the Spring Breeze)

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

Mackey, Steven Beast (sim. See Ya Thursday)

Mimura, Nanae Transformation of Pachelbel’s Canon

O’Meara, Rich Restless

Sammut, Eric Libertango: Variations on Marimba (sim. Variations on Porgy and Bess and Indifference)

Sammut, Eric Four Rotations (sim. Three Spirals)

Sejourne, Emmanuel Romantica

Stevens, Leigh Howard Rhythmic Caprice

Stout, Gordon Two Mexican Dances (sim. Astral Dance, Beads of Glass, Rumble Strips)

Tyson, Blake A cricket sang and set the sun

Zivkovic, Nebojsa Jovan Ilijas (sim. Ultimatum II, Homo Balcanicus)

C Tier (Intermediate and/or Relatively Interesting)

Hatch, Earl Furioso and Valse in D Minor

Lin, Chin-Cheng Wind (sim. April Sky)

Monkman, Jesse Parody

Muramatsu, Takatsugu Land

Musser, Clair Omar Etude in C Major, Op. 6 No. 10 (sim. other Musser Etudes)

Rosauro, Ney Three Preludes for Solo Marimba

Smadbeck, Paul Rhythm Song

Smadbeck, Paul Virginia Tate

Trevino, Ivan Strive To Be Happy (sim. Anthem, Memento)

D Tier (Beginner and/or Mildly Interesting)

Gomez, Alice Mbira Song

Gomez, Alice (and Rife, Marilyn)

Rain Dance (sim. Gitano, Marimba Flamenca)

Hopper, Adam Ghost Garden

Peters, Mitchell Sea Refractions

Peters, Mitchell Yellow After The Rain (sim. Galactica, Teardrops, Waves)

Schmitt, Matthias Ghanaia

Zivkovic, Nebojsa Jovan Funny Marimba Book I

Final thoughts

So there you have it! Let me know in the comments what you thought of the above tier list.

It’s interesting that the majority of the ‘Most Popular’ marimba solos are in the B Tier, but that makes sense, given that its less likely most players will be required to go beyond the B Tier level works for academic purposes. Of course I’d love to see more marimba specialist soloists emerge, but I know all too well that it’s a difficult lifestyle to pull off!

Fortunately, playing our instrument doesn’t have to be about who can play the fastest, most accurate renditions of S Tier works. If this list taught me anything, it’s that you can still have a great time performing any of the above works in any capacity, whether it’s an exam, a public concert, or even just playing by yourself at home.

And that’s what it should always be about – making music and enjoying every minute of it.

I'm a big fan of marimba and love talking about it. On an unrelated note, I also like looking at watches and cars. You can always catch me on THE STUDIO show or follow me @thestudiofamily on Instagram.

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