Thomas Zirkle's Dissertation

Developing a Four-Mallet Marimba Technique Featuring the Alternation of Mallets in Each Hand for Linear Passages and the Application of this Technique to Transcriptions of Selected Keyboard Works by J.S. Bach.

Note: This dissertation is available for free download in .pdf format from the menu to the right. Comments are greatly appreciated (


The goal of this study is to develop a four-mallet marimba technique that utilizes alternation within each hand on linear passages, then apply this technique to selected keyboard works of J. S. Bach. This paper provides a method of training the hands for this type of alternation and will hypothesize a conception of hand positions as a method of facing the visual/spatial logistics issues of marimba performance. A performance annotation chapter will then apply the alternation sticking, and its resultant positional concepts, to three new transcriptions of J. S. Bach's inventions and a prelude and fugue from his Well-Tempered Clavier (Book II).

The alternation technique of this study is predicated on the hypothesis that certain linear passages for the two mallets of a single hand may be played with increased stability, accuracy, and efficiency using an alternation-based sticking in lieu of the repetition-based sticking practice used by contemporary marimbists. In many passages, the player may simply apply standard two-mallet left and right sticking practices to the two mallets of a single hand. The increased stability mentioned above may also aid the marimbist's kinesthetic sense of the bars, thereby improving accuracy in one hand and freeing more of the player's visual attention for the non-linear (or "other-linear") hand. The improved kinesthetic sense can assist in sight-reading, where the player must rely on the "mind's eye" (a combination of the player's kinesthetic sense and a mental picture of the keyboard) for both hands while the eyes remain trained on the unfamiliar page.