Percussion instruments - Idiophones


[Fr. cymbales; Ger. Becken; It. piatti; Sp. platillos]. Broad-rimmed circular plates of indefinite pitch, slightly convex so that only the edges touch when two are struck together. In the center of each is a small hump, or boss, pierced by a hole, through which a holding strap is attached. Modem orchestral cymbals, made of copper and tin alloy with a touch of silver, are heavier and flatter than their predecessors and come in a variety of sizes, typically between 44 and 55 cm (17 and 22 in.) in diameter. Thickness and hence tone color vary as well. In orchestral music, they are most often held vertically and clashed together, the sound being damped if necessary against the chest. Cymbals can also be suspended and struck with some sort of beater or a pair of drum sticks; or one can be fastened to the top of a bass drum and hit with the other. 

Cymbals probably originated in Asia Minor as ritual instruments. They are mentioned frequently in the Bible (ca. 1100 b.c.e.), were used in the orgiastic rites connected with worship of the goddess Cybele (1200 b.c.e.), and appear in Babylonian and Assyrian sculpture (ca. 700 b.c.e.) and later on Greek and Roman monuments. They were widespread in the Far East, particularly in India and Tibet, and were included in a Turkestani orchestra established at the Imperial Court in Peking in 384 c.e. Gigantic instruments nearly 1 m in diameter were employed in Mongolian temples. The gamelan orchestras of Indonesia include smaller versions, and female dancers from many Oriental regions have used finger cymbals.

Cymbals came to Europe during the Middle Ages and were depicted, for example, in the Cantigas de Santa Maria (ca. 1270). Other medieval illuminated manuscripts often show angels or women playing cymbals, usually held horizontally in the Oriental manner.

Cymbals were probably first used in the modem orchestra by Nicolaus Strungk in his opera Esther (1680), but seem not to have been in general use until the craze for Turkish Janissary music gripped Europe in the mid-18th century. Gluck used cymbals in Iphigenie en Aulide (1774) as did Mozart in Die Ent-fiihnmg aus dem Serail (1782), Haydn in his Symphony no. 100 (Military; 1793-94), and Beethoven in the Ruins of Athens (1812), Wellington’s Victory or “Battle Symphony” (1813), and the Ninth Symphony (1822-24). Berlioz called for no fewer than ten cymbals in his Requiem (1837), and Wagner often wrote for them in the Ring of the Nibelungen (1848-76). The regular use of cymbals in the Romantic orchestra is typified by the works of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. More recent composers, such as Mahler, Strauss, Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Walton, have called for a variety of effects, requiring cymbals of different sizes and tone colors and shuck with a variety of devices, such as a wire brush, steel rod, coins, triangle beater, fingernails, or cello bow.

Joseph Haydn / Symphony No. 100 in G major "Military"

A crash cymbal is a type of cymbal that produces a loud, sharp "crash" and is used mainly for occasional accents, as opposed to in ostinato. They can be mounted on a stand and played with a drum stick, or by hand in pairs. One or two crash cymbals are a standard part of a drum kit. Suspended crash cymbals are also used in bands and orchestras, either played with a drumstick or rolled with a pair of mallets to produce a slower, swelling crash. Sometimes a drummer may hit two different crash cymbals in a kit at the same time to produce a very loud accent, usually in rock music.

Although crash cymbals range in thickness from paper-thin to very heavy, all crash cymbals have a fairly thin edge. They are typically 14 to 18 inches (36 to 46 cm) in diameter, but sizes down to 8 inches (20 cm) and up to 24 inches (61 cm) are manufactured. Custom crash cymbals up to 28 inches (71 cm) in diameter have been used by big bands. Different thicknesses are used for different kinds of music, and the alloy for each manufacturer's models varies. A thick cymbal is likely to be used by a metal or rock band, while thinner cymbals are generally used in lighter rock. Darker crashes are best used for jazz.

The sound of a crash is changed by its luster. A cleaner cymbal creates a crisper sound, whereas a cymbal showing signs of oxidation (called a 'raw' cymbal) creates a duller sound.

All cymbals other than rides, hi-hats and crashes/splashes are usually called effects cymbals when used in a drum kit, though this is a non-classical or colloquial designation that has become a standardized label.

Most extended kits include one or more splash cymbals and at least one china cymbal. Major cymbal makers produce cymbal extension packs consisting of one splash and one china, or more rarely a second crash, a splash and a china, to match some of their starter packs of ride, crash and hi-hats. However any combination of options can be found in the marketplace.

Some cymbals may be considered effects in some kits but "basic in another set of components . A swish cymbal may, for example serve, as the main ride in some styles of music, but in a larger kit, which includes a conventional ride cymbal as well, it may well be considered an effects cymbal per se.

Solo for Cymbal

Kits Cymbals

In most drum kits and drum/percussion kits cymbals are as important as the drums themselves. The oldest idiophones in music are cymbals, and were used throughout the ancient Near East, very early in the Bronze Age period. Cymbals are most associated with Turkey and Turkish craftsmanship, where Zildjian (the name means cymbal smith) has predominantly made them since 1623.

Beginners cymbal packs normally contain four cymbals: one ride, one crash, and a pair of hi-hats. A few contain only three cymbals, using a crash/ride instead of the separate ride and crash. The sizes closely follow those given in Common configurations below.

Most drummers soon extend this by adding another crash, a splash, a china/effects cymbal; or even all of those last mentioned.

Ride cymbal

The ride cymbal is most often used for keeping a constant-rhythm pattern, every beat or more often, as the music requires. Development of this ride technique is generally credited to Baby Dodds.

Most drummers have a single main ride, located near their right hand,(& within easy playing reach, as it is used very regularly) most often a 20" sizing but, 16"-24" diameters are not uncommon. It is most often a heavy, or medium-weighted cymbal that cuts through other instrumental sounds, but some drummers use a swish cymbal, sizzle cymbal or other exotic or lighter metal ride, as the main or only ride in their kit, particularly for jazz, gospel or ballad/folk sounds. In the 1960s Ringo Starr used a sizzle cymbal as a second ride particularly for use during guitar solos.


The hi-hat cymbals consist of two cymbals mounted facing each other on a metal pole, with a foot pedal that can be depressed to move the cymbals together. The hi-hats can be sounded by striking the cymbals with one or two sticks or just by opening and closing the cymbals with the footpedal, without striking the cymbals. Different sounds can be created by striking "open hi-hats" (without the pedal depressed) or "closed hi-hats" (with the pedal pressed down). A unique effect can be created by striking an open hi-hat and then closing the cymbals with the footpedal. The hi-hat has a similar function to the ride cymbal; The two are rarely played consistently for long periods at the same time, but one or the other, usually is employed to keep the finer rhythm much of the time within a piece of music. It is played by the right stick of a right-handed drummer. Changing between ride and hi-hat, or between either and a leaner sound with neither, is often used to mark a change from one passage to another, for example; to distinguish verse and chorus. 



[Ger., also Stahlspiel; Fr. carillon, jeu de timbres; It. campanelli, carillon; Sp. carillon, campanologo]. 
A percussion instrument of definite pitch consisting of metal bars of varying length arranged in two rows, somewhat in the fashion of a piano keyboard, on a frame, usually without resonators. It is mounted horizontally on a stand and played with two or more beaters with hard, small, round heads.

Some instruments of this general type, which came into use in the mid-18th century, are played from a pianolike keyboard, and some models are equipped with a damper mechanism controlled by a pedal. Its range is notated from g to c", and it sounds two octaves higher. A similar instrument used in military and marching bands has its bars arranged on a frame shaped like a Greek lyre and is thus often termed a bell lyra or bell lyre. This instrument is supported by a strap around the player and is held upright.

Pink panther Glockenspiel



A xylophone with resonators under each bar. Originally an African instrument, it spread to Latin America and remains popular in Mexico and Central America, especially in Guatemala, where it is considered the national instrument. In Africa it may have only 1 or 2 bars, or it may have 20 or more; resonators are generally gourds, sometimes with mirliton devices added. Marimbas are often assembled into orchestras composed of instruments of different size and pitch accompanied by drums. Sometimes two players play on the same instrument, one player seated on either side.

Classical marimba, model Antonko AMC-12

In Latin America, marimbas are typically mounted on stands. The resonators may be tubular or made from gourds or other material, sometimes with mirli-ton devices. Marimba orchestras are popular in Mexico and Guatemala. Some Central American marimbas are very large, covering up to seven octaves and played by several players, all standing or sitting on the same side. Tuning is usually chromatic. A marimba constructed of bamboo tubes is played by people of African ancestry along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador.

Marimbas have been manufactured in the U.S. since the early 20th century for use in popular and concert music, including the symphony orchestra. A typical orchestral instrument covers three to four chromatic octaves ascending from the C below middle C, the bars being arranged on the pattern of piano keys. 

"The Marimba" from "The Capitals of Spanish America" (1888)

Xylophones are widely used in music of west and central Africa. The name marimba stems from Bantu marimba or malimba, 'xylophone'. The word 'marimba' is formed from ma 'many' and rimba 'single-bar xylophone'.


Diatonic xylophones were introduced to Central America in the 16th or 17th century. First historical record of Mayan musicians using gourd resonator marimbas in Guatemala was made in 1680, by the historian Domingo Juarros. It became more widespread during the 18th and 19th centuries, as Mayan and Ladino ensembles started using it on festivals. In 1821, marimba was proclaimed the national instrument of Guatemala on its independence proclamation.

The gourd resonators were later replaced by harmonic wooden boxes, and the keyboard was expanded to about five diatonic octaves. Variants with slats made of steel, glass or bamboo instead of wood appeared during the 19th century.

In 1892, Corazón de Jesús Borras Moreno, a musician from Chiapas, expanded marimba to include the chromatic scale by adding another row of sound bars, akin to black keys on the piano.

The name marimba was later applied to the orchestra instrument inspired by the Latin American model. In the United States, companies like Deagan and Leedy company adapted the Latino American instruments for use in western music. Metal tubes were used as resonators, fine-tuned by rotating metal discs at the bottom; lowest note tubes were U-shaped. The marimbas were first used for light music and dance, such as Vaudeville theater and comedy shows. Clair Omar Musser was a chief proponent of marimba in the United States at the time.

French composer Darius Milhaud made the ground-breaking introduction of marimbas into Western classical music in his 1947 Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone. Newly invented four-mallet grip enabled playing chords, and the innovation enhanced the interest for the instrument. In the late 20th century, modernist and contemporary composers found new ways to use marimba: notable examples include Leoš Janáček (Jenufa), Carl Orff (Antigonae), Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Hans Werner Henze (Elegy for Young Lovers), Pierre Boulez (Le marteau sans maître) and Steve Reich.

Legend of Zelda - Main Theme on Marimba


Percussion instrument derived from gongs of indefinite pitch that originated in China. It consists of a thickish disc of bronze with a rolled rim, which prevents the outer edge from vibrating. The disc is suspended in a frame and is struck with a stick covered with chamois or felt.

Orchestral tam-tams come in two sizes: a large one measuring 28 inches in diameter and a small one about 20 inches in diameter. When struck forcibly, the tam-tam is the loudest instrument in the orchestra, a veritable sun capable of obliterating the sound of a hundred instruments in the glare of its distinctive noise. It can also be tremendously effective when played sofdy, producing a sound that is ominous and dreadful, e.g., the chilling single stroke that marks the climax of the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor. Tam-tam strokes lend a feeling of menace to the heaving sea in the third movement of Debussy’s La mer and add an oriental flavor to “Laideronnette, Imperatrice des Pagodes” in Ravel’s Ma mire I’oye.

The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky calls for the tam-tam to be scraped with a triangle beater during “The Glorification of the Chosen One,” which produces a sound like the dry scream of a low-flying jet. Other notable uses of the instrument can be found in Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, where, following a fortissimo stroke in the final bar of the piece, the tam-tam is allowed to ring after the rest of the orchestra has fallen silent.

A gong (from Javanese, Indonesian, Malay: gong; Chinese: 鑼; pinyin: luó; Thai: ฆ้อง Khong; Vietnamese: cồng chiêng) is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat, circular metal disc which is hit with a mallet. It originated in China and later spread to Southeast Asia, and it can also be used in the percussion section of a Western-style symphony orchestra.

Gongs broadly fall into one of three types: Suspended gongs are more or less flat, circular discs of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through holes near to the top rim. Bossed or nipple gongs have a raised centre boss and are often suspended and played horizontally. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on cushions and belong more to bells than gongs. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other alloys in use.

Gongs produce two distinct types of sound. A gong with a substantially flat surface vibrates in multiple modes, giving a "crash" rather than a tuned note. This category of gong is sometimes called a tam-tam to distinguish it from the bossed gongs that give a tuned note. In Indonesian gamelan ensembles, some bossed gongs are deliberately made to generate in addition a beat note in the range from about 1 to 5 Hz. The use of the term "gong" for both these types of instrument is common.


Suspended gongs are played with hammers and are of two main types: flat faced discs either with or without a turned edge, and gongs with a raised centre boss. In general, the larger the gong, the larger and softer the hammer. In Western symphonic music, the flat faced gongs are generally referred to as tam-tams to distinguish them from their bossed counterparts. Here, the term "gong" is reserved for the bossed type only. The gong has been a Chinese instrument for millennia. Their first use may have been to signal peasant workers in from the fields as some gongs are loud enough to be heard from up to five miles away. In Japan, they are traditionally used to start the beginning of sumo wrestling contests.

Large flat gongs may be 'primed' by lightly hitting them before the main stroke, greatly enhancing the sound and causing the instrument to "speak" sooner, with a shorter delay for the sound to "bloom". Keeping this priming stroke inaudible calls for a great deal of skill. The smallest suspended gongs are played with bamboo sticks or even western-style drumsticks. Contemporary and avant-garde music, where different sounds are sought, will often use friction mallets (producing squeals and harmonics), bass bows (producing long tones and high overtones), and various striking implements (wood/plastic/metal) to produce the desired tones.

Rock gongs are large stones struck with smaller stones to create a metallic resonating sound.

Traditional suspended gongs

Chau gong (Tam-tam)

By far the most familiar to most Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams (not to be confused with tom-tom drums) have become part of the symphony orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact, it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.

A chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat except for the rim, which is turned up to make a shallow cylinder. On a 10-inch (25 cm) gong, for example, the rim extends about 1⁄2 inch (1 cm) perpendicular to the gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the manufacture of the gong. The rest of the gong is polished to remove this coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7 to 80 inches (18 to 203 cm) in diameter.

The earliest Chau gong is from a tomb discovered at the Guixian site in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. It dates from the early Western Han Dynasty. They were known for their very intense and spiritual drumming in rituals and tribal meetings.

Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which of them should bow down before the other.

Uses of gongs in the symphony orchestra

The tam-tam was first introduced as an orchestral instrument by François-Joseph Gossec in 1790, and it was also taken up by Gaspare Spontini and Jean-François Le Sueur. Hector Berlioz deployed the instrument throughout his compositional career, and in his Treatise on Instrumentation he recommended its use "for scenes of mourning, or for the dramatic depiction of extreme horror." Other composers who adopted the tam-tam in the opera house included Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini nd Richard Wagner; Rossini in the final of act 3 of Armida (1817), Bellini in Norma (1831) and Wagner in Rienzi (1842). Within a few decades he tam-tam became an important member of the percussion section of a modern symphony orchestra. It figures prominently in the symphonies of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Rachmaninov and Sergei Prokofiev. Giacomo Puccini used both gongs and tam-tams in his operas. Igor Stravinsky greatly expanded the playing techniques of the tam-tam in his The Rite Of Spring to include short, quickly damped notes, quick crescendos, and a triangle beater scraped across the front of the instrument. Karlheinz Stockhausen used a 60" Paiste tam-tam in his Momente.

Static March - solo tam tam (gong) 



Percussion instrument named for its shape. The standard triangle is a steel rod bent in the shape of an equilateral triangle, six to seven inches on a side and open at one corner. It is played with a metal beater. If properly struck, the instrument’s tone is high, clear, and luminous. Individual notes can be played with a stroke that contacts the instrument on the base or along one of the sides near the apex, depending on the tone one wishes to produce. Rolls, which can be notated either as trills or tremolos, are played by executing rapid strokes within one of the angles, producing a sparkling, penetrating sonority that blends beautifully with the upper partials of the orchestral harmony.

Triangle and beater

The triangle entered the arsenal of Western classical music in the Middle Ages, but became a fixture in the orchestra only toward the middle of the 18th century, after being popularized by the Janissary bands of the Ottoman Empire. Mozart used the triangle, along with cymbals, in his overture to Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (1782), and Haydn included these instruments in his Symphony No. 100 in G (1794), nicknamed the Military—both composers intending to suggest a Turkish element. When Beethoven deployed the triangle (along with cymbals and bass drum) in the finale of his Ninth Symphony, he broadened its context from the topical to the col-oristic, opening the door to widespread use of the instrument in the orchestral music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Notable passages involving the triangle can be found in Schumann’s Spring Symphony (1841), Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (1853), Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 (1877), Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 (1884-85), Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol (1887), and Dvorak’s Symphony From the New World (1893). The triangle contributes to the splash of color that begins Respighi’s Pini di Roma (1923-24) and to the final moments of any number of works, including Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition (1922) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 (1937).

Sextet for Triangles

In European classical music, the triangle has been used in the western classical orchestra since around the middle of the 18th century. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven all used it, though sparingly, usually in imitation of Janissary bands. The first piece to make the triangle really prominent was Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, where it is used as a solo instrument in the third movement, giving this concerto the nickname of "triangle concerto". In the 19th century, the triangle was used in some music by Richard Wagner, such as the "Bridal chorus" from Lohengrin. Johannes Brahms uses the triangle to particular effect in the third movement of his Fourth Symphony. The triangle is used extensively in Hans Rott's Symphony in E major, particularly in the BIS recording; in later recordings, the conductor has reduced its role. 

Most difficulties in playing the triangle come from the complex rhythms which are sometimes written for it, although it can also be quite difficult to control the level of volume. Very quiet notes can be obtained by using a much lighter beater — knitting needles are sometimes used for the quietest notes. Composers sometimes call for a wooden beater to be used instead of a metal one, which gives a rather "duller" and quieter tone. When the instrument is played with one beater, the hand that holds the triangle can also be used to damp or slightly modify the tone. For complex rapid rhythms, the instrument may be suspended from a stand and played with two beaters, although this makes it more difficult to control.

Rimsky-Korsakov - Capriccio espagnol op.34


Tubular bells

[Fr. cloches tubulaires; Ger. Rohren-glocken, Glocken; It. campane tubolari; Sp. cam-pandlogo].
A set of metal tubes of varying length, hung vertically in a frame in an arrangement similar to that of the piano keyboard, and struck at the top with one or two rawhide mallets; also called chimes. They are tuned chromatically, usually from c' to f", notated at pitch.

Their pitch is better defined than that of cupshaped bells. Tubular bells were introduced in the 1880s and have become a standard part of the orchestral percussion section, often being called upon to imitate the sound of church bells. 

Tubular bells - sounds



The vibraphone (also known as the vibraharp or simply the vibes) is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family.


The vibraphone resembles the xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel. Each bar is paired with a resonator tube that has a motor-driven butterfly valve at its upper end. The valves are mounted on a common shaft, which produces a tremolo or vibrato effect while spinning. The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal similar to that on a piano. With the pedal up, the bars are all damped and produce a shortened sound. With the pedal down, they sound for several seconds.

The vibraphone is commonly used in jazz music, in which it often plays a featured role and was a defining element of the sound of mid-20th-century "Tiki lounge" exotica, as popularized by Arthur Lyman. It is the second most popular solo keyboard percussion instrument in classical music, after the marimba, and is part of the standard college-level percussion performance education. It is a standard instrument in the modern percussion section for orchestras and concert bands.


The first musical instrument called "vibraphone" was marketed by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States in 1921. However, this instrument differed in significant details from the instrument now called the vibraphone. The Leedy vibraphone achieved a degree of popularity after it was used in the novelty recordings of "Aloha 'Oe" and "Gypsy Love Song" by vaudeville performer Louis Frank Chiha ("Signor Frisco").

This popularity led J.C. Deagan, Inc. in 1927 to ask its Chief Tuner, Henry Schluter, to develop a similar instrument. However, Schluter didn't just copy the Leedy design, he introduced several significant improvements: making the bars from aluminium instead of steel for a more "mellow" basic tone; adjustments to the dimensions and tuning of the bars to eliminate the dissonant harmonics in the Leedy design (further mellowing the tone); and the introduction of a foot-controlled damper bar so musicians can play it with more expression. Schluter's design was more popular than the Leedy design, and has become the template for all instruments now called vibraphone.

However, when Deagan began marketing Schluter's instrument in 1928, they called it the vibraharp. The name derived from similar aluminum bars that were mounted vertically and operated from the "harp" stop on a theatre organ. Since Deagan trademarked the name, others were obliged to use the earlier "vibraphone" for their instruments incorporating the newer design.

The name confusion continues, even to the present, but over time vibraphone became significantly more popular than vibraharp. By 1974, the Directory of the D.C. Federation of Musicians listed 39 vibraphone players and 3 vibraharp players.

The initial purpose of the vibraphone was to add to the large arsenal of percussion sounds used by vaudeville orchestras for novelty effects. This use was quickly overwhelmed in the 1930s by its development as a jazz instrument. As of 2015, it retains its use as a jazz instrument, and is also established as a major keyboard percussion instrument, often used for solos, in chamber ensembles, and in modern orchestral compositions.

The use of the vibraphone in jazz was pioneered by Paul Barbarin, the drummer with Luis Russell's band. His playing can be heard on recordings by Henry "Red" Allen from July 1929 ("Biff'ly Blues" and "Feeling Drowsy"), and Barbarin played on the first recordings by Louis Armstrong to feature the instrument – "Rockin' Chair" (December 1929) and "Song of the Islands" (January 1930).

Bossa Nova on Vibraphone


Wood block

A wood block (also spelled as a single word, woodblock) is a small slit drum made from a single piece of wood and used as a percussion instrument. The term generally signifies the Western orchestral instrument, though it is related to the ban time-beaters used by the Han Chinese, which is why the Western instrument is sometimes referred to as Chinese woodblock. Alternative names sometimes used in ragtime and jazz are clog box and tap box. In orchestral music scores, wood blocks may be indicated by the French bloc de bois or tambour de bois, German Holzblock or Holzblocktrommel, or Italian cassa di legno (Blades and Holland 2001).

The orchestral wood-block instrument of the West is generally made from teak or another hardwood. The dimensions of this instrument vary, although it is either a rectangular or cylindrical block of wood with one or sometimes two longitudinal cavities (Blades and Holland 2001). It is played by striking it with a stick, which produces a sharp crack (Montagu 2002b). Alternatively, a rounder mallet, soft or hard, may be used, which produces a deeper-pitched and fuller "knocking" sound.

In a drum kit, a woodblock was traditionally mounted on a clamp fixed to the top of the rear rim of the bass drum.

Wood Block Symphony Seattle Art Instrument



[fr. Gr. xylon, wood; Fr. xylophone, also obs. claquebois; Ger. Xylophon; It. xilofono; Sp. xilofono]. A percussion instrument of definite pitch consisting of suspended wooden bars struck with a beater. The modem orchestral instrument has bars made of hardwood or a synthetic material suspended horizontally on a frame and arranged in the fashion of a keyboard. Beneath each bar is a vertical tubular resonator whose length corresponds to the pitch of the bar. The instrument is mounted on a stand and struck with two (or more) beaters of various hardnesses. The back of each bar is longitudinally concave, a feature that contributes to definition of pitch. The pitch of a bar is determined by both its length and thickness; a decrease in length raises pitch, a decrease in thickness lowers it.

The range of the modem instrument varies, the largest being four octaves upward from c' to c'"", another standard size being from f or g' to c'"". It is normally notated on a single treble staff an octave below sounding pitch.

Instruments of this general type are documented in Southeast Asia and Africa from the 14th century and are still widely disseminated in a variety of types in these regions as they are in the Americas, to which they were brought from Africa. In Southeast Asian instruments, a wooden trough often serves as a resonator. In African instruments, gourds may be used, though bars may also be suspended between the legs or between two logs. In Europe, Amolt Schlick (Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten, 1511) described such an instrument as hultze glechter (wooden percussion), and soon after the term Strohfiedel (straw fiddle) came into use owing to the fact that the bars were sometimes simply laid on ropes of straw.

The latter type of instrument was played by the Pole Michal Jozef Guzikow, who aroused the interest of Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt. It persisted into the 20th century, when the modem form was developed. Marin Mersenne (
Harmonie universelle, 1636 37) depicted a keyed instrument and one with the bars suspended vertically like a ladder and termed eche-lette. Other terms have included [Ger.] Holzharmonika, [It.] gigelira, and [Lat.] ligneum psalterium. The term xylophone came into use early in the 19th century. The instrument’s earliest well-known use in the orchestra was to represent the rattling of skeletons in Saint-Saens’s Danse macabre (1874). It has been widely used in art music since then.

The Golden Age of the Xylophone


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