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I started playing the marimba and although it seems a bit unusual I wish to be part of a jazz band with that instrument. Fortunately, before buying my own instrument I found out that marimbas have different pitches, some really nice ones are A=443. But I do need to get an instrument that is tuned at A=440 to fit in with a band, right?

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Although lots of bands choose A=440Hz as their tuning base, it doesn't have to be.

Marimbas are not possible to tune up/down, so they are what they are. However - all other instruments (discounting pianos/organs/Fender Rhodes et al) can be adjusted. Decades ago, in bands, where there was a piano at the venue that was enough in tune to be playable, my band would tune to it - inevitably a bit low - so at least everyone was in tune. Even if there's an electronic keyboard to be part of the band, most have the facility to be fine-tuned.

So, whilst it would seem advisable to have a marimba in 'standard' tuning, if A=443Hz provides a far better instrument, I'd have thought all the other band members would be able to match that with no real problems, except perhaps for those with AP.

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  • "If A=443 provides a far better instrument" I don't see how tuning a bit sharp would change the quality of the instrument at all. – Edward Mar 19 at 13:50
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    @Edward I suppose it was a reference to the OP saying "some really nice ones are A=443", even if it's not clear if that's an assumption based on availability, maker production or just misunderstanding. – musicamante Mar 19 at 14:56
  • @Edward - not tuned sharp, as such, but tuned to a different A pitch. Probably for a market in a different part of the world. – Tim Mar 19 at 16:44
  • With "nice" I meant that I found an affordable instrument with bars made of palisander. The sound of those bars is supposed to be the best. As to the "different markets": It seems to be more a question of whether playing in a classical orchestra, where the standard tuning in many countries is A=442 (even 443) or playing Jazz, Pop etc. where the standard tuning in any country is A=440. On the other hand even Vibraphones - and they are pure Jazz, aren 't they? - come in 442 and 443. – Andrea Mar 19 at 17:51
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    Vibraphones appear in orchestras, and part of the vibraphone market (probably a large part) is high school marching bands, where they will be played alongside marimbas. – Edward Mar 19 at 21:15
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Not all instruments are at the same pitch. I heard a piano tuner interviewed, who tuned pianos for the big concert halls, and he said for piano concertos he tuned the piano 1.5 cents sharp. Certain instruments are tuned slightly sharp, I think the accordion is for ensembles. Also 440 is not universal, in Vienna I believe it is 442-444.

If the marimba or vibraphone is flat in relation to the the ensemble it is not a good sound. An example was on British light music radio programmes. The style many years ago was to finish a piece on a rising violin scale, followed by a vibraphone chord. Because the violins would rise in pitch throughout the performance the final vibraphone added 6th chord was often flat.

I would suggest you go on a specialist tuned percussion forum, or talk to a marimba technician. My guess is the marimba is deliberately tuned slightly sharp.

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    1.5 cents would hardly be noticeable -- A4 would be 440.38 Hz, so it would beat against 440 Hz slightly faster than every three seconds. – phoog Mar 19 at 14:04
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    I'd love to hear an example of that flat marimba in a "British light music radio programme". Any chance of a link? Thank you. – Adam Chalcraft Mar 20 at 3:09

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