Xylophones, glockenspiels, marimbas, vibraphones, xylorimbas and marimbaphones are basically all considered members of the percussion family of instruments.
So, what exactly is the difference?
Why is there a need for so many instruments that serve the same basic function?
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at each of these percussion instruments.
What Is A Xylophone?
A xylophone is a percussive instrument (idiophone) that has wooden bars that are meant to be struck by mallets.
These bars are tuned to a specific pitch within a musical scale.
In orchestras, the term “xylophone” refers specifically to an instrument that is tuned chromatically, but pentatonic, heptatonic and diatonic xylophones do exist and are utilized in other styles of music.
The term “xylophone” is sometimes used to describe similar instruments, like the balafon, marimba or semantron as well.
What Is A Glockenspiel?
The glockenspiel is a percussive instrument with a set of tuned metal keys that are arranged in the style of a piano or keyboard.
The main difference between a xylophone and a glockenspiel is that a glockenspiel has metal plates or tubes instead of wooden bars.
This makes the glockenspiel a metallophone instrument.
Another difference is that the glockenspiel is smaller and is higher pitched.
A glockenspiel’s range is basically limited to higher notes.
What Is A Marimba?
A marimba is a percussive instrument with wooden bars and resonators or pipes suspended below the bars, which amplifies their sound.
A marimba’s bars are meant to be struck with rubber or yarn mallets.
The marimba’s bars are arranged like the keys on a piano or keyboard.
Like the xylophone, the marimba is considered an idiophone.
The main difference is that it has a more resonant and lower-pitched “sweet spot” compared to the xylophone.
What Is A Vibraphone?
The vibraphone is another member of the percussion family and like the xylophone and marimba, it is also an idiophone.
The vibraphone has tuned metal bars and is usually played with two or four soft mallets.
As with most percussion instruments in this category, its bars are laid out like the keys of a piano.
What makes the vibraphone stand out is that each bar is suspended over a resonator tube with a motor-driven butterfly valve at the top.
This gives the vibraphone a tremolo or vibrato effect.
The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal, much like a piano does.
What Is A Xylorimba?
The xylorimba is a pitched percussion instrument and is basically a xylophone with an extended range and is not a combination of a xylophone and a marimba, though its range is understandably bigger than either.
The layout consists of a series of wooden bars arranged like a piano or keyboard.
What Is A Marimbaphone?
The marimbaphone was a tuned percussion instrument, which had shallow steel bars arranged chromatically with tube resonators under each bar.
I say “was”, because, the marimbaphone is a now obsolete instrument developed by the J.C. Deagan Company of Chicago, Illinois.
The marimbaphone could be played with mallets but because its bars could be rotated to a vertical position, they could also be played with a bow.
This flexibility meant that marimbaphones could be played by multiple players simultaneously to tap into its different textures.
Xylophone Vs Glockenspiel & More; Final Thoughts
The pitched percussion family sure is an interesting one.
None of the instruments are better than the other, and they each have their personality and unique characteristics.
What’s important to know is that there is a difference between each, which is why they all have different names.
These instruments can be played in a variety of situations and different musical styles – not just in classical or orchestral music.
If you’re wondering which you might want to learn, do some additional research and find out which is right for you.