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Marimba melodies are catching on

Posted on March 14, 2017

Marimba may seem like a mild mannered instrument, but Riverdale Grade School’s MarimbaLab arrangement of “Shark Attack” by Grouplove went viral when the indie rock band shared the students’ video on social media saying, “amazing marimba cover of Shark Attack!!” 

students play marimbas on stage “I remember asking the first class what they wanted to play and they said ‘Party Rock Anthem.’ From then on, I focused on arranging popular music for the kids,” says musician/teacher Michael Smith. “At the beginning of each term we all sit down and brainstorm song ideas. Then we vote! MarimbaLab is a democracy.” 

With 50-60 professionally filmed marimba videos on it’s YouTube channel, MarimbaLab’s additional arrangements have surpassed “Shark Attack” in views – including the group’s versions of Taylor Swift’s "Blank Space" at 16,084 views and Adele's “Hello” at 22,848 views. 

The success of the grade school’s before-school program, which grew from seven to 22 students in four years, has now sparked an offshoot at Riverdale High School, with three former RGS students continuing their marimba studies. The high school purchased two 5-octave classical marimbas (“As big as they come,” Mr. Smith says) to support the new after-school program. Additional classes can be added for beginners interested in joining in the fun. Only four players are required to create a class. 

“Marimba is really accessible because from day one, if you hit the key right in the middle of the bar you’re going to make this beautiful sound,” Mr. Smith says. “MarimbaLab students can play individually or the marimbas, a lot of them, are big enough to accommodate three players.” 

Currently, the high school’s MarimbaLab program is playing Elgar's “Nimrod” from the “Enigma Variations” and Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody.” A joint concert is planned for the spring to feature all groups. 

Learn more about the programs and see all the students’ videos at, where you can also connect with Mr. Smith about classes.



Now, the high school marimba students have even more reason to celebrate. They received permission from music publisher Hal Leonard to publish an arrangement of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” they created with teacher Michael Smith.

“Each arranger will share in the profits of the arrangement,” he says. “This will be a great lesson for the kids on the ‘music business.’ I'm pretty sure this will be the first time a high school music program has published students!! At least I have never heard of this!! I'm so excited.”