Xylophone: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kulintang a Kayo 01.jpg
Kulintang a Kayo, a Philippine xylophone
Percussion instrument
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 111.212
(Directly struck idiophone)
Developed Antiquity

The xylophone (from the Greek words ξύλον - xylon, "wood" + φωνή - phone, "voice", meaning "wooden sound") is a musical instrument in the percussion family which probably originated independently in Africa and Asia.[1] It consists of wooden bars of various lengths that are struck by plastic, wooden, or rubber mallets. Each bar is tuned to a specific pitch of the musical scale. The term "xylophone" can refer to Western-style concert xylophones or to one of the many wooden mallet percussion instruments found around the world. Xylophones are tuned to different scale systems depending on their origin, including pentatonic, heptatonic, diatonic, or chromatic. The arrangement of the bars is generally from low (longer bars) to high (shorter bars).



While the instrument has been around for thousands of years, the first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the term "xylophone" is the April 7, 1866 edition of the Athenaeum: "A prodigy ... who does wonderful things with little drumsticks on a machine of wooden keys, called the 'xylophone'."[2]. However, the word appears earlier in the 1865 The Ladies' Companion.[3] Both citations refer to the performance of a child prodiigy, Ernest Bonnay.

It is one of the few English words that begins with the letter X.[4]


Gusikow's 'wood and straw instruments', from Lewald's 'Europa'

The xylophone is a historical instrument that originated independently in Africa and Asia. The earliest evidence of a xylophone is from the 9th Century in southeast Asia according to the Vienna Symphonic Library, and there is a model of a similar hanging wood instrument, dated to ca. 2000 BC in China.[5] An older hypothesis that has seen acceptance among some specialists is that the instrument was invented in Indonesia and spread subsequently to Africa. Many however,see this theory as "rash" and even "preposterous", based on the limited amount of evidence to suggest this to be true.[6] The original instrument consisted of wooden bars seated on a series of hollow gourds, with the gourds generating the resonating notes that are produced on modern instruments by metal tubes. Tuning the bars was always a difficult procedure. Old methods consisted of arranging the bars on tied bundles of straw, and, as still practiced today, placing the bars adjacent to each other in a ladder-like layout. Ancient mallets were made of willow wood with spoon-like bowls on the beaten ends.[1]

It is likely that the xylophone reached Europe during the Crusades, though an early xylophone did appear in Slovakia.[7] The earliest historical reference to a xylophone came in the 14th century.[8] German organist Arnold Schlick's 16th-century Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten also mentions one.[5] By the 19th century the xylophone was associated largely with the folk music of Eastern Europe, notably Poland and eastern Germany. The first use of a European-derived orchestral xylophone was by Charles Camille Saint-Saens in 'Danse Macabre', in 1874.[1]

By 1830, the xylophone had been popularized to some extent by a Russian virtuoso named Michael Josef Gusikov,[9] who through extensive tours made the instrument known. His instrument was the five-row “continental style” xylophone, made of 28 crude wooden bars, arranged in semitones in the form of a trapezoid, and resting on straw supports. It was sometimes called the “strohfiedel” or “straw fiddle”. There were no resonators and it was played with spoon-shaped sticks. According to the musicologist Curt Sachs, Gusikov performed in garden concerts, variety shows, and as a novelty at symphony concerts. (Certainly in the 1830’s a xylophone solo was a novelty.) Noted musicians, including Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, and Franz Liszt spoke very highly of Gusikov’s performances.

The xylophone is a precursor to the vibraphone, which was developed in the 1920s.

The xylophone was frequently used by early jazz bands in the 1920s and 1930s. It was also a very popular instrument in Vaudeville. Its bright, lively sound worked well the syncopated dance music of that time. Red Norvo,George Cary, George Hamilton Green, and Harry Breuer were well-known users. As time passed, the xylophone was exceeded in popularity by the vibraphone. Modern xylophone players include Bob Becker, Evelyn Glennie and Ian Finkel.


The Xylophone-link ranat was used in Hindu regions.

Java and Bali use xylophones (called gambang) in gamelan ensembles. They still have traditional significance in Africa, Malaysia, Melanasia, Center Valley, Indonesia, and regions of the Americas.

A type of xylophone used in India was the kashta tharang.

From Africa, the instrument was imported to South America by African slaves, where it developed into the Marimba.


The modern western-style xylophone has bars made of rosewood, padak, or various synthetic materials such as fiberglass or fiberglass-reinforced plastic which allows a louder sound.[1] Some xylophones can be as small as 2 1/2 octaves but concert xylophones are typically 3 1/2 or 4 octaves.

Concert xylophones have resonators below the bars to enhance the tone and sustain. Frames are made of wood or cheap steel tubing; more expensive xylophones feature height adjustment and more stability in the stand.

In other music cultures, xylophones have wooden bars and a wooden frame. Some versions have resonators made of gourds.[1]

Western classical models

Western-style xylophones are characterized by a bright, sharp tone and high register. Modern xylophones include resonating tubes below the bars. A xylophone with a range extending downwards into the marimba range is called a xylorimba.

Use of Xylophones in American Elementary Classrooms

Many American music educators use xylophones as a classroom resource. Xylophones have been found to assist children’s musical development. These instruments provide options for teaching students to play songs and create their own melodies through improvisation techniques. One method noted for its use of xylophones in the American elementary general music classroom is Orff-Schulwerk, which combines the use of instruments, movement, singing =)and speech to develop children’s musical abilities. (http://www.aosa.org/)[10]

Xylophones used in American general music classrooms are smaller, about 1 ½ octaves, than the 2 ½ or more octave range of performance xylophones. There are three major types of xylophone instruments used in the American elementary general music classroom. The first is called bass xylophone. The bass ranges are written from middle C to A an octave higher, but sound one octave lower than written. The second type of xylophone used is the alto xylophone. The alto ranges are written from middle C to A an octave higher, and sound as written. The third type of xylophone used in American elementary general music classrooms is the soprano xylophone. The soprano ranges are also written from middle C to A an octave higher, but sound one octave higher than written. (Orff/Keetman, 1)[11]

Xylophones should be played with very hard rubber, polyball, or acrylic mallets. Sometimes medium to hard rubber mallets, or very hard cord - or yarn mallets are used for softer effects. Lighter tones can be created on xylophones by using wooden-headed mallets made from rosewood, ebony, birch, or other hard woods. (Cook, 99)[12]

In a non-musical context, Xylophones also frequently appear in elementary classrooms as illustrations in books or on flashcards to help teach young children the letter 'X'.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e How xylophone is made
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, OED.com
  3. ^ The Ladies' Companion, pub. Rogerson and Tuxford, p.152,Google Books
  4. ^ a b http://www.wordnik.com/words/xylophones
  5. ^ a b Vienna Symphonic Library Online
  6. ^ http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/Arts/music/Worldmusic/mafrica/africa.htm
  7. ^ Nettl, Bruno, "Music in Primitive Culture", Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-59000-7, p 98(1956)
  8. ^ The Xylophone
  9. ^ Michael Joseph Guzikow Archives
  10. ^ http://www.aosa.org/
  11. ^ Keetman, Gunild and Orff, Carl. (1958). Orff-Schulwerk Music for Children. English version adapted by Margaret Murray. London: Schott & Co. Ltd.
  12. ^ Cook, Gary D. (1997). Teaching Percussion, Second Edition. Belmont, CA: Schirmer Books, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

XYLOPHONE (Fr. xylophone; Ger. Xylophon, Strohfiedel or Holzharmonika; Ital. armonica de legno), a small instrument of percussion, of definite sonorousness, used in the orchestra to mark the rhythm. The xylophone consists of a series of little wooden staves in the form of a half cylinder and graduated in size. The staves, each of which represents a semitone, rest on two, three or four wooden bars, covered with straw and converging to form an acute angle. They are so arranged that each stave is isolated. In some models the staves are grouped in two rows, comprising the naturals and the accidentals. The xylophone is played with two little wooden hammers, and has a compass of two or three octaves. The quality of tone is inferior to that of the steel harmonica or glockenspiel. (K. S.)

<< Xylene

Xystus >>


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to xylophone article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





From Ancient Greek ξύλον (ksýlon), wood) and φωνή (fōnḗ), sound)


  • enPR: zīʹlə-fōn', IPA: /ˈzaɪ.lə.ˌfəʊn/
  •  Audio (US)help, file
  • Hyphenation: xy‧lo‧phone




xylophone (plural xylophones)

  1. a musical instrument made of wooden slats graduated so as to make the sounds of the scale when struck with a small drumstick-like hammer.
    All I know how to play on my xylophone is "Mary Had a Little Lamb". Would you like to hear it?

Derived terms


See also



  •  audiohelp, file
  • IPA: /ɡzi.lɔ.fɔn/


xylophone m. (plural xylophones)

  1. Xylophone.

Simple English

File:Kulintang a Kayo
A xylophone from the Philippines called a "Kulintang a Kayo"

A xylophone is a musical instrument that is part of the percussion family. It belongs to the group which is often called "tuned percussion" because it can play different pitches (notes). Xylophones have bars which are made of wood. People play the xylophone by hitting the bars with a mallet (a kind of hammer). Each piece of wood is a different length, so they play different notes when they are hit. The bars are arranged like the keys of a piano. Underneath the bars there are long tubes, called resonators, which make the sound louder.

The modern orchestral xylophone developed from xylophones found in Africa and Asia. It came as a folk instrument to countries in Central Europe. It was first used in an orchestra by Humperdinck in his opera Hansel and Gretel. It was also used by Saint-Saëns in his Danse macabre where it is supposed to sound like a skeleton, and in his Carnival of the Animals where it is supposed to sound like fossils.

The xylophone is usually played so that the music sounds an octave higher than written. Because the sound is always very short the xylophone is often used for short solo tunes which are fast and dry.

The marimba is a kind of xylophone which has a softer sound. It is not often used in orchestras. It is usually heard on its own, or with small groups, or in jazz. It was invented in 1910 in the USA.

Xylophones and marimbas are usually played with two beaters, but it is possible for good players to play with four (two in each hand) so that they can play four notes at once. Large beaters like those used for the marimba can also be called mallets.


The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments, Könemann ISBN-10 3-8331-2195-5 9

Other pages

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address