What Is the Form & Function of the Xylophone?

Xylophones are a member of the percussion family of musical instruments. Percussion instruments are any instruments that are struck, hammered, rubbed or stroked. Xylophone players use soft mallets, usually made of felt or yarn, to hit the wooden bars and create sound. Many percussionists play with two mallets; however, it is possible to play chords by keeping more than one mallet in each hand.


The xylophone consists of anywhere from seven to 50 wooden bars that are struck with mallets to create sound. Xylophone bars are made from rosewood and give the xylophone a delicate, wooden sound. The longer bars produce a lower pitched sound while the higher pitched sounds consist of lower bars. A percussionist is able to identify the pitches because the bars are set up on two rows. The first row includes the regular pitches in the musical scale from A to G. The second row consists of the sharps and flats.


There are resonators which appear beneath each xylophone bar. The resonators look like steel tubes and they catch the vibrations from the xylophone and amplify the sound. Without the resonators, the xylophone would not make a very large sound. The resonators must be kept free of dust, debris, and blockages; otherwise, the xylophone will not sound properly. To achieve a muted effect, the percussionist can place cloth around the resonators, thereby muting the sound.


The xylophone stand is an important part of the xylophone. Without the stand, the resonators would not be able to vibrate. The stand is made of steel to support the weight of the instrument and withstand the impact of up to two performers hammering away at the instrument. The xylophone may be pushed between locations because of the wheels that are attached to the base of the legs. Each wheel has a locking mechanism which prevents the xylophone from moving when positioned.


From skeletons dancing to bubbling water, xylophones have been used primarily as a special effect instrument that supports other instruments in the orchestra. The xylophone has a fairly weak sound, so it is not capable or powering through an entire orchestra. The higher range is useful for when the xylophone must provide a clacking, more penetrating sound. The bass notes of the xylophone work well to support chords that are played in the woodwinds. It is not commonly used with brass instruments and pairs well with woodwinds.


Play Music: Xylophone [http://www.playmusic.org/percussion/xylophone.html]
Virginia Tech: Xylophone [http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/textx/Xylophone.html]
Virginia Tech: Percussion [http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/textp/Percussioninstruments.html]


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