Xylophone History

History of the xylophone with facts, information, definition and pronunciation.

Where Does The Word Xylophone Come From?
Xylophone comes from the Greek words “xylon” meaning wood/wooden and “phone” meaning sound/voice. Together they mean “wooden sound”.

How To Pronounce Xylophone


What Is A xylophone?
A xylophone is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of tuned wooden bars or blocks, graduate in length, that are attached to a base. It is played using a set of mallets. The bars are arranged kind of like the keys of a piano with each bar representing a musical note. Most bars have a resonator below each bar to make the sound louder. The standard xylophone has a range from 3.5 octaves to 4 octaves, with commercial xylophones having a range of 3 to 5 octaves.

Xylophone History, Origin Of The Xylophone
It is believed the xylophone originated around 2000 BC in China. A hanging wood instrument resembling a harmonica with 16 wooden bars is said to have existed around that time. Some temple carvings of musicians playing these instruments confirm this.

Xylophones as we know them today first appeared in eastern Asia around the 9th century according to the Vienna Symphonic Library. Later, they spread to Africa long before the 14th century.

By the 16th century, they had reached Europe. They were first mentioned in 1511, referred to as a “wooden percussion” or “wooden clatter” and later as a “straw fiddle” and was used primarily in folk music.

In the 1830’s, the xylophone was a popular percussion instrument used by the composer Michal Jozef Guzikov.

By the 19th century, the xylophone became very popular with the help Russian xylophone virtuoso Michael Josef Gusikov during his tours.

Around 1874, Saint-Saens first used the xylophone in a Western modern orchestra in the Danse macabre movement of his carnival of the animals.

Today, the xylophone can be seen regularly in the percussion section of the orchestra.

Some noteworthy compositions including the xylophone include:
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite
Strauss’ Salome
Mahlers 6th Symphony
Contemporary compositions by Steve Reich

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