Tuning Keyboard Percussion


You didn’t misread the title of this article. In today’s article, we will discuss the tuning of keyboard instruments.

About half the schools I visit on a weekly basis have at least one keyboard instrument that is out of tune. Negligence and mistreatment of the bars is almost always the culprit.


Wow, that sounds bad!

Here is an example of a school I was at today. This is a relatively new Yamaha Vibraphone owned by a high school.

Did you hear that?! Wow!! Let’s take a look at the E-flat bar.

Yamaha vibraphone E-flat with a hairline crack.

Yamaha vibraphone E-flat with a hairline crack.

According to marimba builder Matthew Coe, “Typically, if a bar sounds flat, you will see a horizontal hairline crack in the thinnest part of the bar”. This happend to be true for this particular Vibraphone.

Instrumental Homocide

So why was this bar a victim of 1st degree band-slaughter? I believe there are multiple suspects.

Suspect #1 – Overplaying on the football field.

Modern day percussionists are taught to get as much sound out as they can from front ensemble percussion instruments. Large strokes combined with hard mallets will cause bars to break under pressure. This is no secret in the drum corps world. Front ensemble kids on tour will replace multiple bars on their instruments by the end of the summer

Suspect #2 – Identity crisis: Band students believe the Vibraphone is a table

According to the laws of physics, if you drop a 40 pound glockenspiel on top of a vibraphone, bars will break.  It’s as simple as that. If percussion instruments are used and stored correctly, this will never happen.

Suspect #3 – Incorrect Mallets

Here’s the data:

  • Brass mallets + vibraphone = Cracked bars
  • Hard plastic mallets + vibraphone = Cracked bars and/or cracked mallets
  • Yarn or cord mallets + vibraphone = Great sounding instrument!

Repair or Replace?

I recommend simply replacing out of tune bars, especially if you have a newer instrument. This is your only option if your instrument is a synthetic material such as the Musser “Kelon” or Yamaha “Acoustalon”.

Older instruments, such as Deagans or older Mussers are better off being tuned by professionals. Contact the master tuners below for more information.

Matthew Coe – Owner of Coe Percussion

Century Mallet Company – Specializes in tuning vintage Deagan Instruments

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