December 8, 2021

Is a Marimba the Same as a Xylophone? + Other Questions

Both the marimba and the xylophone are considered types of xylophone instruments. They look similar. You differentiate the two by looking at the undersides of the tone plates for the lower-ranged notes. The central portions of these bars on a marimba hollow out, while those of a xylophone are wavy.

The marimba has a soft and mellow tone when it comes to the sounds. The impression one receives is restrained. Xylophone notes are distinct and sharply defined.

The tuning between the two instruments is not the same. The marimba has soft tones, whereas the xylophone has hard tones. This difference is the result of each instrument’s tuning method.

The marimba tunes on even-numbered harmonics. You can tune the pitch, fourth harmonic, and 10th harmonic. On the contrary, the xylophone is on the fundamental pitch and the odd-numbered third harmonic.

When tuning the C tone plate on the marimba, the bar matches to C, high C, and high E. 

On the xylophone, the bar matches to C and high G. When the marimba plays with an orchestra, the notes blend in.

Xylophone’s notes stand out because the tuning method is different. Its harmonics resemble those of woodwind and string instruments. Yamaha’s xylophones are unique as they are tuned with odd-numbered harmonics. Some manufacturers make instruments tuned with even-numbered harmonics.

Glockenspiel vs Xylophone vs Marimba

The marimba has similar wooden bars to the Glockenspiel with resonators underneath. The Glockenspiel has metal bars, also tuned to the relevant notes, and the Xylophone has a series of wooden bars. They are tuned to the relevant notes.

Xylophones have a range of two-and-a-half to four octaves, whereas the Marimbas have a wider range, between three and five octaves. A xylophone comes with an extended range downwards to give pitches in the marimba.

What is a Xylophone?

It is a musical instrument played by striking a row of wooden bars of graduated length with one or more small wooden or plastic beaters. Use a mallet to strike the bars. It comes with a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano.

Average Price

A decent xylophone costs above $100. However, there are usually promotions on websites like Amazon. If you are working on a tight budget, keep checking for sales to choose a better model without limiting yourself.

Marimba vs Xylophone vs Vibraphone

Vibraphone is a member of the percussion family. That means it is also an idiophone. It has metal bars and plays with two or four soft mallets. What separates each instrument from the rest are the unique characteristics.

These are played in different situations and for different music styles. Xylophones and vibraphones are similar contexts, but they are different in terms of sound. While xylophones produce a crisper and richer sound, vibraphones have a much more mellow and damp sound.

What is Marimba?

The marimba is a percussion instrument consisting of wooden bars. These are struck with yarn wrapped or rubber mallets to produce musical tones (Source). Use rubber mallets to strike the wooden bars to produce musical tones. It uses pipes as they are suspended underneath the bars to amplify the sound of the wooden bars. See our guide for how to make marimba.

The bars of a marimba are like piano keys. It has groups of two and three accidentals raised vertically. They overlap the natural bars to help the performer visually and physically. This instrument belongs to the idiophone family but with a more resonant pitch than the xylophone.

Average Price

The price for marimbas starts at around $2500 and up to 15000 and even higher.

Musical Differences

  • The marimba has soft tones, whereas the xylophone has hard tones. This difference is the result of each instrument’s tuning method. The marimba tunes on even-numbered harmonics. They have tuning on the fundamental pitch, the fourth harmonic, and the 10th harmonic. The xylophone tunes on the pitch and the odd-numbered third harmonic.
  • Xylophones can be used during a band concert or a symphony orchestra. The marimba is played as a stand-alone instrument or along with other percussions.
  • The xylophone produces a sharper tone, whereas the marimba makes a mellow tone.

Similarities

  • They are all percussion instruments.
  • They have bars struck by mallets to produce sound.
  • They are of the same material.

What is the difference between a xylophone, vibraphone and a marimba?

The vibraphone looks like a xylophone or marimba but uses a different technology for the music to come. The difference between xylophone and vibraphone is in wooden bars. These are thicker and shorter, whereas a vibraphone uses aluminum bars. The materials used to make the bars are also different.

Are bells a xylophone?

Bells is just a name that represents percussion instruments. They belong to idiophones, instruments sounding by the vibration of resonant solid material. The shape of bells depends on the cultural environment, intended use, and material used in construction.

What instrument is similar to a xylophone?

The marimba is similar to the xylophone. The xylophone instruments look identical. What separates the two are the undersides of the tone plates for the lower-ranged notes. They both have bars that you struck with a mallet to produce sound.

What is the wooden xylophone called?

A wooden xylophone is called the marimba. It is also a larger version of a xylophone with wood or plastic resonators attached to the bottom of the wooden keys. That gives it a mellower and more rounded sound.

What is the difference between a marimba and a vibraphone?

The difference between marimba and vibraphone mallets is in the materials used in their construction. The head of both mallets contain a rubber core, but the material wrapped around that core differs.

Marimba mallets use a softer yarn than vibraphone mallets. Vibraphone mallets use a cord. The harder cord and rounder shape of the mallet head gives a clear sound from the metal bars of the vibraphone.

The material used for their shaft is also different. Marimba comes with the rigidity of birch shafts, while vibraphonists have rattan, which is flexible. Flexibility suits vibraphone techniques like mallet dampening.

The soft yarn heads of marimba mallets limit their volume. That minimizes performance on the vibraphone. However, vibraphone mallets work on the marimba for a clear, cutting tone.

David D. Hughes
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