Xylophones and glockenspiels are ideal instruments for a young child’s early music making and exploration.
What are percussion instruments?
Xylophones and glockenspiels belong to the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those musical instruments that are shaken or played with the hands, or tapped or scraped with a mallet or beater to produce a sound. Percussion instruments can be non-tuned with random pitches like maracas or tambourines, or tuned so a melody can be played.
Xylophones and glockenspiels are tuned percussion instruments consisting of a collection of bars of differing lengths, each producing a different pitch. The piano is also classified as a percussion instrument.
Tuning of xylophones and glockenspiels
Xylophones and glockenspiels are generally tuned to a scale similar to the keys on a piano. Some ethnic instruments are tuned to other non-western scale systems. Xylophones and glockenspiels can have the entire range of chromatic bars, just like the white and black keys on the piano or some just have the bars equivalent to the white keys on the piano. A good range for early childhood is one and a half octaves. The inclusion of an F sharp and B flat bar allows a wider range of melodies to be played.
Some instruments do not have scale tuning at all such as the stir xylophone with bars of differing lengths forming a circle shape like a little tub. A wooden mallet or spoon is stirred around the inside of the bowl to produce the sound (hence the name stir xylophone). There are also a number of children’s xylophones that are not tuned to concert pitch but have a random set of pitches so a variety of sounds can be made. Recognizable tunes cannot be played on them but they do encourage exploration and creativity and an awareness of differing pitches. The Voila Smiley Xylophone is an example of this type. It is a good quality wooden instrument but it is not tuned to concert pitch. Then there are those instruments of lesser quality that simply have poor tuning and a poor quality of sound. There are many examples of this type that can be found in toys stores usually for less than $20. An example of a good quality glockenspiel that is tuned to concert pitch is the Sonor Kindermusik glockenspiel. The Halilit Baby Xylophone is also a reliably tuned instrument suitable for little ones although it is a misnomer as the bars are made of metal. The Tatiri glockenspiel is also a good colorful instrument with lots of appeal to children.
What is the difference between a xylophone and a glockenspiel?
The important thing about the difference between these instruments is that xylophones have bars that are made of wood and glockenspiels have bars made of metal. The word glockenspiel comes from the German and means to play the bells. The word xylophone comes from the Greek and means wooden sound. Individual bars are also available. These are called chime bars or tone bars and sometimes they are available in sets of bars.
Xylophones and glockenspiels are ideal starting instruments
Learning to play simple tunes on a xylophone or glockenspiel is a good forerunner to learning to play a musical instrument, particularly the piano. They encourage spatial awareness and eye – hand coordination. Xylophones and glockenspiels are widely used in early childhood and primary school classrooms for ensemble playing and creative musical activities. They are the foundation instruments in the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education.