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Modern xylophone with the arrangement of the bars according to a keyboard
Kulintang a kayo , a xylophone from the Philippines
Support bracket Xylophone mendzan in Cameroon , about 1914
Dance of Death cycle . Woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger , 1538. “The old woman”: Early illustration of a xylophone.

The xylophone , also xylofon ( ancient Greek ξύλον xýlon , German 'wood' and φωνή phōnē 'voice, tone' sound '), is a percussion instrument belonging to the serve idiophone with a row or several rows of tuned in different pitches and lying on a frame Chime bars made of wood (often rosewood ) or bamboo and struck with mallets . Xylophone belong to the percussion bar games ( English mallet percussion ), whose main representatives in Europe, the marimba (marimba), the glockenspiel and vibraphone count. The origin of the xylophones lies in Asia and Africa. At the beginning of the 16th century they were known in Germany as wooden laughter or (because of the way the wooden sticks are placed on straw rollers) straw fiddles .


Xylophones consist of a series of bars made of hardwood or bamboo, European xylophones usually made of Honduran rosewood ( Dalbergia stevensonii ), the pitch of which is determined by their different lengths (13.5 to 38 cm). In the area of ​​the vibration nodes of their basic resonance frequency, the rods are mounted on straw or rubber rollers in a wooden frame or on a metal frame with resonance tubes under each rod. Their length is inversely proportional to the square root of the fundamental resonance frequency. The rods can be tuned by grinding them. By reducing the mass or the stiffness, you can tune both higher and lower.

The attack is usually carried out with two mallets, usually wooden mallets, whose stems are about 30 cm long and made of rattan, hornbeam or hickory and their oval or spherical heads about 2.5 cm in diameter can be made of wood (rosewood). With spoon-like wooden mallets (spoon mallets) you strike the four-row xylophone - a successor to the single-row straw fiddle - on the front edge or on the center of the chime bars.

In the older trapezoidal design, the bars are arranged in a row chromatically , diatonic or pentatonic . The single-row diatonic or pentatonic arrangement is still used for music educational purposes (see e.g. Orff-Schulwerk ). In the professional field, the chromatic wooden sticks are usually arranged in two rows in the manner of a keyboard , with the rear row viewed by the player (altered tones) corresponding to the black keys of the piano.

Regarding the design, a distinction is made between spar xylophone, frame xylophone, box xylophone, trough xylophone and bracket xylophone. In the case of the spar xylophone, the rods lie across two beams (spar), in the case of the trough xylophone on a box ( trough ), which also serves as a resonance body . African xylophones with calabash resonators usually have Mirlitons for sound amplification.

The range of a xylophone is about three octavans, depending on the type of construction.

Related to the xylophones are metallophones (with metal rods) and lithophones (with rod-shaped stones).


The tone of the xylophone is short and percussive; longer note values ​​can be approximately simulated by hitting a wooden stick with two mallets in a whirling manner. The timbre is perceived as dry, bright and, when played fast, as rattling and has often been associated with ghostly and ghostly elements.


Trog xylophone
pattala in Myanmar with 24 bamboo sound plates

Xylophones play an important role in many non-European musical cultures. The marimba , characterized by its tuned resonance tubes under each rod, is considered to be the national instrument of Guatemala . In Africa xylophones are widespread, in West Africa as balaphon , in Cameroon and Gabon as mendzan , in the south of Uganda as amadinda with twelve and as akadinda with up to 22 chime bars and in Malawi as valimba . The portable xylophone zanga occurs among others among the Gbeya speakers in Central Africa . Its resonators consist of cow horns and calabashes of various shapes and sizes. The player sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out hits the zanga , which is secured with a strap around his neck, with the sound bars almost vertically and the resonators pointing horizontally forward. Several types of xylophone called mbila and timbila are common in southern Africa .

In Javanese gamelan , the gambang kayu ("wooden gambang ", to distinguish it from the gambang gangsa with bronze plates) is used next to metallophones. The calung is an old Javanese xylophone with sound bars made of solid bamboo tubes . Related trough xylophones in Southeast Asia are called roneat in Cambodia , ranat in Thailand and pattala in Myanmar .

In Europe the instrument played a minor role. It was first used in symphonic music by Camille Saint-Saëns in Danse macabre (1874). It is also used in dance and popular music. Well-known examples are the saber dance from the ballet Gayaneh by Aram Chatschaturjan , Orff's Carmina Burana , fossils from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns and the famous solo piece Memories of Circus Renz by Gustav Peter .

In music education and special education, xylophones are used in which individual sound bars are easily exchangeable in order to put together individual chords or melody lines and thus introduce musical amateurs to the music. Xylophones are among the core instruments of Orff's school work .


The xylorimba , a variant in which the ambitus of today's European standard xylophone (f - c 4 ) in the octave range of the small octave is increased by the tones c, c sharp, d, dis and e and the, has existed since the early 20th century thus has a pitch range from c to c 4 , i.e. four octaves. The xylorimba is not a mixture of marimba and xylophone, as the name suggests, but a transposing instrument whose tones sound an octave higher than they are notated (sound: c 1 to c 5 ). Another, electronic variant is the xylosynth .

Works for xylophone (selection)

  • Gustav Peter : Souvenir de Cirque Renz. probably 1894 ( gallop for xylophone and orchestra)
  • Jules Blangenois : Introduction et Mazurka for xylophone and orchestra . 1901 (Melos.de library)
  • John Corigliano : Conjurer: Concerto for Percussionist and String Orchestra with Brass. 2007 (Concerto for percussion and orchestra, 1st movement)

Web links

Commons : Xylophone  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Xylophone  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 177.
  2. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. 1979, p. 178.
  3. Xylophone Portatif "Zanga". Cité de la Musique. Philharmonie de Paris
  4. Danse macabre, opus 40 . (PDF; 64 kB) Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (English)
  5. Xylorimba . In: Virginia Tech Music Lexicon (English)