Only a 35 year work anniversary


So Linked In reminded me this week that my independent business had been going for 35 years and thank you for all those that passed a comment or gave the thumbs up. This is one anniversary I had not thought about celebrating although a 40 or 50 year party could be on the cards and I plan to keep going far longer than that.

All those years ago I published three collections of music, the first works in a catalogue that now contains over 300 books/collections/tutors/ensembles/suites…, and the standard of the product has changed from a stapled assembly of A3 photocopies to a card covered/wire bound printed book to an illustrated and only downloadable PDF.

My pricing policy has changed according to the manufacture with the initial products being near cost before I introduced a more structured process for the more substantially manufactured items and more recently back to a more reasonable price range now that the manufacturing costs are no longer part of the reckoning although distribution is still a factor in the final price. I have had a number of comments about how cheap some of the pricing is and in general I am happy to produce a product that will sell x number of copies over y years and will cover all the costs as well as allow me to invest z in the future.

I try and create music that can be performed by many people in different groups and hopefully at times in different combination. My belief is that the music will be used by a number of performers and with a bit of good fortune help grow a musician or two along the way.

So what happened to the works from 35 years ago? Ten Xylophone Solos with piano accompaniment is still going strong, Little Suite covered its costs and what I thought was the most exciting of the three, The North Yorkshire Suite, hardly did anything. Probably too much of a limited audience at the Scarborough Spa and surrounding Wolds for that one although I did include it in the Three Suites Collection published a few years ago.

What is more exciting is what is coming next: Dozens of Duets will appear on-line soon for clarinets, bassoons, unpitched percussion, trumpets, pitched percussion, horns, violins, oboes, violin and cello,… These duets start very simply during the first few dozens before progressing to a more challenging standard and are written for student with student. After years of not quite being able to find the right music for marimba I think I now have and Arrow of Eros, an electric baroque influenced composition, is available in both two players/one instrument and two players/two instruments format.

Suitcase of sounds will be available this month for percussion quartet, all the instruments used fit into cabin sized luggage, and other publications are nearing completion with music and poetry and images.  A new collection of Traditional Tunes arrangements for percussion soloist with piano accompaniments are now available from Southern Percussion and there are others I have missed but I’m sure my social media will let you know as soon as things happen.

Happy new music and @prbpnews is my Twitter address, is the website and is my Facebook page for Percussion Music Online.

© Peter R. Birkby 2016

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long time no blog


Hello again, for my regular readers I apologise for neglecting you during the past few months, and I hope the New Year is a good year for you. The first few weeks of my New Year, and the last few months of the previous one, have been spent in completing the work for a PhD and I am glad to say it was all submitted by the due date.

Thousands of words and the scores to over one and a half hours of musical compositions later it has all gone to be reviewed and assessed and I am now free of thesis thoughts and I can turn my attentions to other things. Not that I have been solely focussed on the research during my years of part-time study, I had to work and earn as well, and being pulled in different directions has sometimes meant difficult choices due to the irreconcilable requirements of the research, work and life balance.

I can understand why many postgraduate students do not complete their courses with the rate of between 40 to 50% dropout being cited for the USA over many years. This is a revealing statistic with many funding themselves but choosing not to complete and forgo the possible return on their investment. The demands of research are numerous with full immersion in the subject and lifestyle of a postgraduate researcher being one key aspect that many who had left felt could have helped them complete according to one Vitae discussion roundup

Along the way I have found some very good resources: pat thomson, @ThomsonPat on twitter or, posts some excellent information as well as interesting retweets being a prime example and do not forget to talk to your colleagues, current and past, as they often have information or can facilitate an introduction to a good source.

New music to write and publish now as well as edit the most appropriate works for digital distribution and get back into a work routine. I have enjoyed some aspects of the research and it has taught me, or made me realise, how to evaluate myself but would I embark on such a journey again? Full-time with funding: þ yes but part-time while working ý no, there are just too many conflicting demands on limited time.

Evaluation done and now on to editing Traditional Tunes – a collection of eight arrangements featuring timpani, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone or xylophone with piano accompaniments – available from Southern Percussion ( soon, I still very much have a passion for music.

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Old School Digital

IMG_4451 Had a lovely day recording The Blue Daze trio last month in a church hall on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The trio is piano, bass guitar and drums with a repertoire of mostly original music composed by my brother John.

I wanted to capture the spontaneity of their performances, solos and ensemble, without being too intrusive so went for a one stereo microphone approach. During the time that the trio were getting used to their environment, and trying out a few ideas, I walked around the room using my ears to gauge where the ‘sweet-spots’ were in regard to hearing a good balance of all the instrumental sounds.  I then placed the Soundfield microphone in the best area and listened again, altering the width of the stereo field until I was happy that I was picking up all the nuances of sound and then it was a matter of press record and let the trio play.

The sounds from bass, piano and drums are in distinct registers most of the time. There can be a little blurring with the bass and left hand of the piano in the lower register and high register right hand piano sections with snare but the trio had clearly considered most of this before the recording and the instrumental sounds remained clear throughout so capturing other parts separately to mix in later was not required.

The only change I had to make was to the overall level for a couple of the numbers when the kit player changed from brushes to sticks and the band intuitively performed at louder dynamic level. The recording captured by the Soundfield was just like the sound in the room and we were all happy with the final results.  In the analogue days, before the mixing desk, the band would play and listen to each other considering the internal balance of the whole sound and the recording engineer would need good ears, well-made microphone stands and a pair of stepladders to climb when trying to find the ideal position for the microphone. Even in the digital age there is still a need for ears and a good microphone as well as the laptop and interface, recording software and a supply of clean electricity and sometimes a sturdy stand and stepladders.

Mixing was easy once the final, whole trio, sound had been agreed and to listen for yourself to the results follow the link to the new Blue Daze Trio Soundcloud page. I hope you enjoy the old style digital recording and the band’s music.

© P. R. Birkby 2015

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do percussionists still play xylophone solos?


Or is it all marimba these days?

I grew up with the xylophone. Nearly every band rehearsal room had one in some state or another. Resonator tubes leaning against the wall with the other sections hidden under piles of music or even complete in the far corner of the band room covered in posters and cases invariably used as a table. The three, or sometimes three and a half, octave rickety framed wooden noted instrument was an integral part of my musical education in brass bands.

It took a few years for me to understand why most of these instruments sounded so bad with the band. It was not until I took an interest in their construction, and looked underneath the notes, that I found the reason for the obvious tuning discrepancies with the brass instruments. Many of the xylophones I played were in HP, not bought on the never never but in high pitch. High pitch was a common tuning standard in the brass bands up until the 1960s (nearly a semitone above the standard orchestral [A440] tuning) but unfortunately it was not a full semitone different so even by reorganising the notes on the instrument it sounded too flat to the 1970s brass band that had changed to a standardised pitch or very obviously out of tune if left as manufactured.

This was the instrument I learnt on, got to grips with the distances between notes and mastered the target practice. It was very rare to see a xylophone being performed as a solo instrument although Patrick Moore (writer, television presenter and amateur astronomer) was sometimes featured on the BBC performing one of his solos. Representative clip of the style from an early Children In Need special with the brilliant Deryck Guyler on another neglected percussion setup the washboard and pans.

YouTube now features a few more xylophone soloist especially the great Teddy Brown and his band playing drums or xylophone with an effortless, yet years of practice, technique. One of my solos Two Spanish Dances has even made it onto the channel, played by a 12 year old Jess, with piano accompaniment although the majority of the others solos on the channel have brass or military band accompaniments.

To have a marimba in the 60s and 70s was something special, exotic and wasn’t it just a bass xylophone? Even now having a marimba in the UK is not that common. Hopefully most music services in the country invested in one in the past, before the new funding regime came into effect, as spending that sort of money on such an instrument these days would now be regarded as too much of a luxury. What now seems to be the major difficulty for the aspiring percussionist is the access to an instrument. Having spent so much money in the past administrators have now got all the expensive assets locked away, often in storerooms rather than practice rooms and finding the instrument, let alone being able to practice on it, needs determination and guile.

Last week there were many posts and tweets by percussion friends from PASIC 2015 organised by the Percussive Arts Society held in San Antonio, Texas. In a separate event on November 8th Kutztown University organised an event celebrating the life and work of Clair Omar Musser, ‘150 marimbists on over 75 instruments’ was advertised in the press release. Here in the UK we can only admire the spectacle and hope for similar investment somehow in the future. I could find 75 xylophones fairly easily in my locality but that number of marimbas in the country would prove a challenge even taking into account university and conservatoire percussion departments.

I will continue to compose for both instruments and would love to write for a large ensemble of marimbas though getting to hear a performance may be too difficult. The great organisational work by Liz Gilliver and future performances of the Manchester Marimba Orchestra could be an inspiration to UK based composers to explore this set of sounds but this project needs a benefactor as do most music projects in this country.
The sheet music for the Ten Xylophone Solos book with piano accompaniments is available to order from Southern Percussion and the suite Mutual Marimba Music and the new book 12 Solos for Xylophone with CD of accompaniments can be ordered from or as a download from either in sterling or in dollars.
The xylophone and timpani were the start of my musical vocation and I hope you enjoy the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiels, bells… any and all of the keyboard percussion instruments, I have and continue to do so.

© P. R. Birkby 2015

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

T to Z from the A to Z of percussion

World Premiere at The Joseph Bramah

Percussion at the world premiere of DDoDV


Tabla (India) Wooden drum with straps and tuned with pegs.

Tabor (Europe) Long narrow drum.

Taiko (Japan) Large barrel shaped drum.

Talam (India) Finger cymbals.

Talking drum (Africa) Hour-glass shaped drum with rope tension, pitch is altered when ropes are squeezed.

Tamborim (Brazil) Small, high pitched single headed drum.

Tambourine Single headed frame drum with pairs of metal jingles around the frame.  Translations Italian tamburo basco/tamborino, French tambour de Basque, German schellentrommel/ tambourin, Spanish pandereta.

Tammorra (Italy) Tambourine.

Tam Tam (World) Large metal disc of indefinite pitch.

Tapan (Balkans) Large tom tom with rope tension.

Tenor Drum Tom tom designed for marching.  Translations Italian tamburo rullante, French caisse roulante/tambourin, German ruhrtrommel/tenortrommel, Spanish canja rodante.

Thavil or Tavil (India) Similar to bata drum.

Thunder sheet (USA) Shaken metal sheet for thunder effect.

Thunder stick see bull roarer.

Timbale (Cuba) pair of single headed metal drums, often with cowbell(s) attached.

Timbalito (Cuba/USA)- Smaller, more piercing version of timbales.

Timpani or kettle drums Pitched drums with a limited range of notes so usually performed in sets of 2 (most common) to 6 (rare).  The lowest note on the largest drum is around C (2 octaves below middle C) and the highest on the smallest drum is B below middle C.  Tuning can be altered by using tuning handles (old) or a pedal mechanism (modern).  Translations Italian timpani, French timbale, German pauken, Spanish timbale.

Ting-ting (Tibet) pitched metal disc (see crotale).

Tom tom Many cultures have single and double headed drums similar to kit or set drums. Each has a traditional or regional name and many of these are included in the A to Z.

Train whistle Imitation of a steam train whistle, often 2 or 3 tones.

Trash (World) Sounds created from rubbish or junk, trash cymbal has little ring but a harsh metallic sound.

Tres golpes (Cuba) 3 tumbadora set (conga).

Triangle Various sizes of ringing metals and alloys.

Tsuzumi (Japan) Talking Drum.

Tubular Bells Usually manufactured as chromatic sets with a range of C to F (octave +). Translations American chimes, Italian campane, French cloches, German glocken, Spanish campanas.


Udkka or Udakai (India) Talking drum.

Urumee (India) Hourglass shaped drum.


Vibraphone or vibraharp (USA) metal bars with a usual range of 3 octaves from F below middle C upwards.  The instrument has small paddles in the top of each resonating tube that can be turned by a motor for a vibrato effect.


Washboard (Europe/ USA) corrugated metal played with thimbles on the fingers (often has pans and horns with it).

Waterphone Metal rods welded onto a bowl with water inside, rods are struck/ scratched or bowed to produce an ethereal sound.

Whip or Slapstick Two flat pieces of wood (hinged) that slap together imitating a whip sound.  Translations Italian frusta, French fouet, German peische/holzklapper, Spanish fusta la tigo.

Whistle Many used for effects, police, referees, boatswain, swanee, siren…

Wind chimes (World) Various lengths of hanging material- wood, bamboo, shell, glass, metal, keys….

Wind machine (Western) Stretched canvas and wood mechanical sound effect.

Wine glasses Pitched and performed by running finger around the edge, bowing or soft beaters.

Wood block Translations Italian cassa di legno, French blocs de bois, German holzblock, Spanish bois de madera.


Xylophone Wooden bars with a range of 3 or 3.5 octaves down from the top C of a full sized piano.  Translations Italian Silofono, French Xylophone, German Xylophon, Spanish Xilofon.


Ya-kou (Africa) Barrel shaped drum.


Zabomba (Brazil) Bass drum. for the latest news about percussion publications.  The A to Z information is taken from the Drum Kit and Percussion Jotter.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

R and S from the A to Z of percussion



Rain maker (Brazil) Tube with baffles and seeds inside.

Ratchet Usually made of wood with a cog turning against fixed slats. Translations Italian raganella, French crecelle, German ratshe, Spanish carraca.

Rattle (Aboriginal/ Australia)- Container or gourd with seeds inside.

Reco-reco (Brazil) Scraper, often metal springs stretched on a piece of exhaust pipe.

Requinto (Puerto Rico) Lead drum in Bomba music.

rGna rGna (Tibet) Drum supported on a pole or suspended in a frame struck with a crooked stick.

Riq (Middle East) Similar to the tambourine though the jingles are larger and heavier sounding (consequently less pairs on the instrument).  Performed with the head mainly in the vertical plain with fingers and palm.

Rolmo Rolmo (Tibet)- cymbals held one above the other and struck by vertical movement.

Rototom (USA) tuneable tom tom with no shell

Rullante (Italy) Snare Drum (or Tenor Drum)

Rute- see Switch


Sakara (Nigeria) Drum with pot shell

Sandpaper Blocks (Western) effect of train/ sandance etc.

Sansa- see Marimbula

Segundo (Cuba) Larger tumbadora of pair (conga)

Shaker Tube or box shape with beads, seeds, stones, shot… inside (pictured). Translations Italian tubo, French chocalho, German schlittelrohr, Spanish chocalho.

Shekere (Africa) (Cuba) Gourd strung with beads

Silnyen Silnyen (Tibet)- cymbals struck by horizontal movement.

Singing Bowl (Tibet) Metal bowl produces a note by running stick round the edge.

Siren- Wind whistle to swoop up (and down with a little practice) Also air raid siren, larger mechanical version.

Sistrum (Arabia) or Spurs Metal discs in a frame.

Slapstick see Whip.

Sleigh Bells Collection of metal bells (often different sizes) with an internal clapper. Translations Italian sonagli, French grelots, German schellen, Spanish sonajas.

Slit Drum (Africa) see log drum.

Snare drum Drum (usually double headed) with a wire, hair or gut snare or snares touching one or both heads. Translations Italian tamburo piccolo/rillante, French caisse claire, German kleine trommel, Spanish caja clara.

Spoons A pair, wood, metal or bone struck together.

Spring (USA) Suspended shock absorbers from vehicles.

Steel Drums (Jamaica) Cut down and tuned oil drums, also known as Pans.

Sticks- or Mallets, Beaters, Rute, Switch, Rattan- mostly made with wooden handles but with various types of heads or tips: wood, felt, metal, rubber, plastic, wool, cloth, fur, leather- to produce different sounds from the instruments.

Stones (World) Struck together of struck with stick(s).  There are also stone and slate keyboard percussion instruments (rare).

Surdo (Brazil) Large and long drum (deep/ bass sound).

Swanee Whistle Whistle alters pitch by changing the length of pipe, swoop up and down.

Switch or Rute (World) Bunch of twigs or split wood that is used as a sound or as a stick. for the latest news about percussion publications.  The A to Z is taken from the Drum Kit and Percussion Jotter.

(c) Peter R. Birkby 2015

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

M, N, O, P and Q from A to Z of percussion


Mark tree

Macho (Cuba) smaller timbale drum.

Madal (India) drum like bata.

Mallets (USA) see sticks.

Mambo bell (Cuba) Larger cowbell with timbales.

Maracas (South America) shells/ gourds or constructed pair of shakers with handles.

Marimba (Africa) Wooden bars with a mellow sound due to the size of the bars/register that the instrument can cover.  Various different versions see list below written at pitch.


Marimbula or Mbira (Africa) also thumb piano or kalimba.  Metal or bamboo strips attached to a resonating chamber.

Mark Tree (USA) Long metal wind chime with chimes ordered in pitch (pictured).

Matka (India) Pot drum.

Mexican Bean Very long seed pod used as a shaker.

Mkar-rnga (Tibet) Pitched gong.

Monkey Drum (Asia) Small drum on a handle with balls on strings that hit the heads when the handle is turned.

Motor Horns see Car Horns.

Mridangam (India) drum like bata.


Nagara (India) Pot drum.

Nightingale Call whistle in water filled chamber.

Nyma (Africa) Pot drum.


Orixas (Brazil) Beaded gourd instrument, used in afroxé.


Pailas (Cuba) Timbales or play shells of the drums.

Pakhwaj (India) drum like bata.

Palitos (Cuba) Sticks or played on any wooden sound.

Pandeirada (Spain) lively Galician tambourine-based tunes.

Pandeiro, (Brazil) Headed tambourine with heavy jingles.

Pistol (World) Starting pistol to create sound effect.

Prayer Bowl (see Singing bowl).


Quijada (South America) also charrasga or jawbone.  Jawbone (horse, donkey size) that has been dried with teeth intact to rattle when struck.  See the modern equivalent the vibra slap.

Quinto (Cuba) Smaller/ high pitched tumbadora (conga). for the latest news about percussion publications.  The A to Z is part of the Drum Kit and Percussion Jotter.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment