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The xylophone (from the Greek meaning 'wooden sound') is a musical instrument in the percussion family which probably originated in Indonesia (Nettl 1956, p.98). It consists of wooden bars of various lengths that are struck by a plastic, wooden, or rubber mallet. Each bar is tuned to a specific pitch of the musical scale. Xylophone can refer to western style concert xylophones which are used in the orchestral percussion section and as a solo instrument or to one of the many wooden mallet percussion instruments found around the world.

Xylophones are tuned to different scale systems depending on their origin, including pentatonic, heptatonic, diatonic, or chromatic. The arrangement of the bars is generally from low (longer bars) to high (shorter bars).


[edit] History

The xylophone is believed to have originated in eastern Asia. Models were developed in western and eastern Africa. Subsequently it was adopted in Europe. [1]

The earliest known model was from the 9th Century in southeast Asia. (However, a model of a hanging wood instrument dated to ca. 2000 BC in China.) [2]

The xylophone, which had been known in Europe since the Middle Ages, was by the 19th Century associated largely with the folk music of Eastern Europe, notably Poland and Eastern Germany. By 1830, the xylophone had been popularized to some extent by a Russian virtuoso named Michael Josef Gusikov, who through extensive tours had made the instrument known.

[edit] Gusikov’s instrument and influence

His instrument was the four-row “continental style” xylophone made of 28 crude wooden bars, arranged in semi-tones in the form of a trapezoid, and resting on straw supports. It was sometimes called the “strohfiedel” or “straw fiddle”. There were no resonators and it was played with spoon shaped sticks. According to musicologist, Curt Sachs, Gusikov performed in garden concerts, variety shows, and as a novelty at symphony concerts. Certainly in the 1830’s a xylophone solo was a novelty. Noted musicians, including Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt spoke very highly of Gusikov’s performances. Perhaps due to his great influence, xylophonists continued to be featured in theater shows and concert halls until well into the 20th century.

[edit] Early appearances in orchestral scores

In the 1870’s a French xylophonist, Charles DeTry, became known as a virtuoso on his instrument, and it is possible that his playing influenced Camille Saint-Saens, who first used the xylophone in a symphonic composition, Danse Macabre, in 1874. “Fossils” in Carnival of the Animals (1886) would use the same part (except that it is in 2/4 rather than 3/4). The xylophone was utilized to emulate the sounds of bones rattling.

The rising popularity of ragtime then novelty music, most notably through the works and virtuosity of xylophonist George Hamilton Green, defined the xylophone by style, heritage, and character that lasted beyond the “golden age”. The overture of George Gershwin's 1930s opera Porgy and Bess, for example, features a prominent xylophone part that bears the influence of the xylophone’s American ragtime and novelty music tradition.

[edit] Novelty music

At the end of World War I, there was a sudden craze for dancing, and as dance halls appeared everywhere, there arose a demand for music with a danceable beat. Both George and Joe Green were involved in recording during this period of 1918-1925, and their xylophone playing and drumming would be heard in the waltzes, one-steps, two-steps, and Fox-trots of a number of top recording bands.

[edit] Ragtime

During the last twenty years of the 19th century, a revolutionary method of playing popular music emerged in the United States-a style of creative, syncopated transformation and embellishment of a melody. Essentially an Afro-American phenomenon, the style was crystallized by Black pianists, like Scott Joplin, into a genuinely classical compositional form called the "Rag", a word probably derived from vernacular descriptions of the highly syncopated melodic lines as "ragged". These melodies were set against a steady, march-like bass pattern played by the pianist's left hand. After 1915 the rag began to be transformed, and its infectious syncopation was applied to many types of popular and some classical music. Stravinsky's "Ragtime for Eleven Instruments" and Debussy's "Golliwog's Cakewalk" are examples The term ragtime came to refer to all music that used the characteristic four against three syncopation of the early piano rags. By 1920 a type of ragtime became popular along with a new dance called fox-trot. Known as "novelty ragtime", this music was highly technical, programmatic and speedier than previous rag music, and it was the perfect vehicle for an instrument which had been recently engineered to a high standard of quality by manufacturers in the Chicago area-the xylophone The xylophone had been developed in Africa prior the 14th Century. Historical sources indicate the presence of xylophones in the mid-14th Century, in Mali. [3]

It is likely that the xylophone reached Europe during the Crusades. The earliest historical reference in Europe is in 16th Century Germany in organist Arnold Schlick's Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten. [4]

[edit] Construction

The modern western-style xylophone has bars made of rosewood or more commonly, kelon, an extremely durable fiberglass that allows a louder sound at the expense of tone quality. Some xylophones can be as small as 2 1/2 octaves but concert xylophones are typically 3 1/2 or 4 octaves.

Concert xylophones have resonators below the bars to enhance the tone and sustain. Frames are made of wood or cheap steel tubing; more expensive xylophones feature height adjustment and more stability in the stand.

In other music cultures, xylophones have wooden bars and a wooden frame. Some versions have resonators made of gourds.

[edit] Western classical models

Western-style xylophones are characterised by a bright, sharp tone and high register. Modern xylophones include resonator below the bars. A xylophone with a range extending downwards into the marimba range is called a xylorimba.

[edit] List of xylophones

[edit] See also

[edit] Source

  • Nettl, Bruno (1956). Music in Primitive Culture. Harvard University Press.
  • Jessup, Lynne (1984). The Mandinka Balafon. Xylo Publications

[edit] External links

[edit] Video

[edit] Informational websites

  • Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines - An online textbook about Southern Pilipino Kulintang Music with an extensive section devoted to the Philippine xylophones: the kulintang a kayo, gandingan a kayo and the luntang.
  • amadinda - a website devoted to the xylophone tradition in Uganda, including tutorials, sound recordings, photos, teaching ideas, and information on groups.
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