Sing Me Softly of the Blues

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Gary Burton (vibraphone), Larry Coryell (guitar), Steve Swallow (double bass) and Roy Hynes (drums). From the album Duster (1967).

The vibraphone was born at the beginning of the 20th century with the appearance of jazz and electricity, although it was later incorporated into classical music as well. It’s a musical instrument of the percussion family formed by a series of metal bars, unlike the xylophone and marimba that are made of wood, of graduated sizes, which vibrate when hit with two or four mallets with a thread, wool or nylon head, producing a soft and round sonority. It has determined sounds, since it produces musical notes of a precise height, and even chords can be played striking several bars simultaneously. It usually has three octaves, although some luthiers build them up to four. The bars have the same arrangement as the keys of a piano, that is, the natural notes are in one row and the altered ones in the other.

Vibraphone

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Under each bar there is a resonant tube of aluminum, fiber or bronze, tuned according to the tone of the bar on top of it. Between these tubes and the bars there are discs linked to each other by an axis. There is a disc for each tube and the axis is rotated by an electric motor. The spinning of the discs causes the tubes to open and close partially a desired number of times per minute by adjusting it with a controller, thus creating a vibrato effect. In addition, it has a pedal with a function similar to that of a piano. There is a strip of wood covered with felt that runs the vibraphone through its half. When the pedal is up, the felt makes contact with the bars and these produce a short sound, and when the foot is stepped on, the felt separates from the bars allowing them to sound for several seconds or until they are silenced by releasing the pedal.

Open vibraphone showing its different parts

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Burton begins with a meditative introduction until Coryell comes in to expose a folk-sounding theme while Burton accompanies him abundantly. Then a friendly conversation is established between the two and after that Coryell re-exposes the theme, although he later incorporates new variations.

Vibraphone mallets

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© RCA Records

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