Tuned Percussion


Senior Member
Hi all

just a quick question , I have recently started looking at tuned percussion , I have never read the treble clef before , my question is , do any of the tuned players on here think its imperritive that you need piano lessons to gain a greater understanding to play keyboard percussion ?

i have researched a few players and they all started on the piano , unlike myself , i've only had 2 xylophone lessons but im enjoying it and want to take it as far as i can.



Senior Member
Probably the first big name in vibes was Lionel Hampton. He did play piano, but he played single lines only using two fingers, suggesting that he learned vibes first. I have his autobiography somewhere. Will have to check this when I get a moment.

Both instruments are laid out the same so if you're going to get into jazz, blues etc, then listening to keyboardists and transcribing their work (or going through transcriptions) is a must. Simply because there's more material to draw on. Although I don't play tuned percussion, I play Melodica and even though the instrument sounds more akin to a harmonica, I found it more beneficial coping licks form B3 players like Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith etc rather than the old blues-harp guys. Now that I have reasonable ability on the instrument, I'm working on my left hand and learning keyboards 'properly'.

In short, you can always learn piano later but if you're getting lessons specific to tuned percussion I don't think it necessary at this stage. Especially if you only ever intend to play tuned percussion (although piano layout is the same, techniques are totally different, as you well know).

Having said that, if you have access to a keyboard, use it.
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Senior Member
thanks for the reply ..i might invest in his autobiography.
If you go for a secondhand copy on amazon/ebay, it should be peanuts.

Incidentally, there's a nice overview of Milt Jackson as part of the BBC Jazz Library podcasts:


Just click on the play icon in the scroll down list in top right corner.

There are also podcasts for Max Roach and Ed Thigpen:



Platinum Member
What piano would do is teach you music theory in a more comprehensive manner. When playing mallets, you *might* not get the whole picture, because of the limitations of either 2 mallets or what you can do with 4 mallets. I took 2 years of piano as part of my college experience, along with theory classes and marimba lessons. My mind worked in THIS way at the start: Theory knowledge applied to piano, piano experience applied to mallets. After a year or so, my mallet ability FAR surpassed my piano ability.

If I were you, I would invest in a music theory book/DVD/course. It's one thing to read notes, but it's a whole other world once you look at pieces of music from a theoretical standpoint.


A lot of musicians start on one instrument, and then migrate to something else. Learning to play piano will help you to read better. But I doubt that learning a piano keyboard will make you a better xylophone player. The xylo is different because you play it with mallets, not your fingers. The big challenge is reading and playing at the same time without looking down.