Memo to Composers

Marimba Range and Notation

As far as writing for marimba is concerned, we couldn’t possibly do better at explaining how to write for marimba than Nancy Zeltsman.



The instrument built by Clocks in Motion is comprised of two sets of galvanized pipes (44 in each set). The first set ranges from the F above Middle C (F4) to the C 3.5 octaves above (C8). The second set is the same range, but tuned a quarter tone flat. They can be played as separate instruments, or stacked together to create a 24 tone scale. Each pipe is one inch in diameter and they are laid out in a keyboard format (similar to a vibraphone).

Galvitone Range


Clocks in Motion owns a 4-­octave marimba that is tuned a quarter tone flat. We call it the “Quarimba.” The quarimba can be played “stacked” with a standard tuned marimba to create an even tempered 24­-tone scale. Visit our videos page to hear and see the quarimba in action on Herbert Brün’s At Loose Ends. Although the “stacked” technique of playing the quarimba is what we have done in the past, this instrument can be played alone by a single player too.



Clocks in Motion built a set of sixxen to perform Xenakis’ composition, Pleiades. To hear a sample of our sixxen, please visit our “Audio” page under the “Media” menu on our website. Listen to Metaux by Xenakis. Sixxen are made up of six 19-­pitched metal keyboards. Each of the six keyboards are not exactly in tune with one another, but are always within 3/4 tones of each other. The result is a sort of messy non­-repeating scale. The sixxen are extremely loud and resonant. A variety of mallets and implements sound good on sixxen. Clocks in Motion welcomes sonic experimentation with these instruments. Do not feel that you have to write for all six sets. You can use any combination of sixxen. Also feel free to use them with other instruments.

Notation for sixxen is surprisingly simple:

  • Sixxen are a 19­-pitch keyboard instrument.
  • The written pitches DO NOT match the sounding pitch.
  • Simply write for sixxen as a chromatic scale in treble clef
  • Treble Clef Bottom Space F is the lowest note. B above the staff is the highest note.

Sixxen Range

Formatting of Parts and Scores

For the question of how to format your parts and scores for Clocks in Motion, please consult percussionist Nick Tolle’s blog called Tolleism. His blog is excellent and it addresses how to format parts in a three part series. Part 1 will be especially helpful for composers because it addresses the issues that performers want/don’t want.

Nick outlines some fabulous suggestions for composers when making parts. We are not requiring any particular notation system. Please feel free to use whatever notation you prefer (see the list below for exceptions). We would like to request that composers format their parts in such a way that they can be used in performance.

Notation and Mallet Indications

Here are a few notational practices that you should avoid:

  • Do not use pictographs. Just write the name of the instrument in plain english (or simple abbreviations) directly in the music (or in the key preceding the piece.)
  • There are often questions as to whether or not you should notate different instruments on different staffs, OR print different pitches for different instruments on the same staff. This often depends on the family of instruments. For example, when writing for 4 drums, simply write them low to high all on the same staff. In general, the more condensed the part is, the better. If you can avoid writing for 2 or 3 staves simultaneously, please avoid it.
  • Questions of notation depend upon context. If you have a specific question about notating a certain passage or group of instruments, please email us at [email protected]
  • It is completely up to you how in depth you want to be about notating mallet choices. IN GENERAL we suggest that composers describe a sound that they want, rather than specify a particular material or mallet model number. Of course there are many exceptions to this rule. It is okay to specify the mallets when:
    • the mallet is a “specialty mallet” eg. bass bow on cymbal, wood sticks on timpani, yarn mallets on snare drum, fingertips on marimba bars, etc… These sounds are all “specialty sounds” which are specific to the moment that you use them.
    • the piece has already been performed. Sometimes composers elect to list the mallets used in the premiere performance on their scores. It can be a good starting point for future performances.
    • you are absolutely sure that the mallet you are writing for MUST be used.
  • Most of the time, we suggest that composers use general descriptive terms in order to encourage performers to use a mallet that produces a certain sound:
    • Hard
    • Medium
    • Soft
    • Very hard
    • Very soft
    • Brilliant
    • Dark
    • Smooth
    • Detached
  • It can also be good to list materials:
    • Rubber
    • Wood
    • Metal
    • Plastic
  • If you leave the mallet indications up to the percussionist, most of the time you should get a “good” and “satisfactory” result.
  • Be careful and sensitive that not all instruments work with the same mallets. Try to leave time for mallet changes, otherwise you will end up with performers using a lot of “compromise” mallets. This is a perfectly legitimate way to approach mallet changes and many composers do not allow time for any mallet changes, usually forcing the performer to use one set of mallets for all instruments.
If you have any questions which are not addressed in this document, please direct your questions to [email protected]