Marimba, model Antonko AMC-12
Classification Percussion instrument (Idiophone)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.212
Playing range
List of marimbists
List of marimba manufacturers

The marimba (About this sound pronunciation ) is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys (similar to a piano) to aid the performer both visually and physically. This instrument is a type of xylophone, but with broader and lower tonal range and resonators.

The chromatic marimba was developed in Guatemala[1] from the diatonic marimba, an instrument whose ancestor was a Mayan instrument not of African influence. Modern uses of the marimba include solo performances, woodwind ensembles, marimba concertos, jazz ensembles, marching band (front ensembles), drum and bugle corps, and orchestral compositions. Contemporary composers have utilized the unique sound of the marimba more and more in recent years.




Marimba bars are typically made of either wood or synthetic material, rosewood being the most desirable. Padouk is commonly used as a more affordable alternative. Bars made from synthetic materials generally fall short in sound quality in comparison to wooden bars, but are less expensive and yield added durability and weather resistance,[2] making them suitable for outdoor use; marimbas with wooden bars are usually played inside because the bars are susceptible to pitch change due to weather. Bubinga and mahogany have also been cited as comparable to rosewood in quality for use as marimba bars.[3] The specific rosewood used is universally from Honduras, Dalbergia stevensonii. This wood has a Janka rating of 2200, which is about three times harder than Silver Maple. The bars are wider and longer at the lowest pitched notes, and gradually get narrower and shorter as the notes get higher. During the tuning, wood is taken from the middle underside of the bar to lower the pitch. Because of this, the bars are also thinner in the lowest pitch register and thicker in the highest pitch register.

In Africa, most marimbas are made by local artisans from locally available materials.

Marimba bars produce their fullest sound when struck just off center, while striking the bar in the center produces a more articulate tone. On chromatic marimbas, the accidentals (black keys) can also be played on the space between the front edge of the bar and its node (the place where the string goes through the bar) if necessary. Playing on the node produces a sonically weak tone, and the technique is only used when the player or composer is looking for a muted sound from the instrument.


There is no standard range of the marimba, but the most common ranges are 4 octaves, 4.3 octaves and 5 octaves; 4.5, 4.6 and 5.5 octave sizes are also available.

4 octave: C3 to C7.
4.3 octave: A2 to C7. The 3 refers to three notes below the 4 octave instrument. This is the most common range.
4.5 octave: F2 to C7. The .5 means "half";
4.6 octave: E2 to C7, one note below the 4.5. Useful for playing guitar literature and transcriptions.
5 octave: C2 to C7, one full octave below the 4 octave instrument, useful for playing cello trascriptions e.g. Bach's cello suites.

The range of the marimba has been gradually expanding, with companies like Marimba One adding notes up to F above the normal high C (C7) on their 5.5 octave instrument, or marimba tuners adding notes lower than the low C on the 5 octave C2. Adding lower notes is somewhat impractical; as the bars become bigger and the resonators become longer, the instrument must be taller and the mallets must be heavier in order to produce a tone rather than just a percussive attack. Adding higher notes is also impractical because the hardness of the mallets required to produce the characteristic tone of a marimba are much too hard to play with in almost any other, lower range on the instrument.

The marimba is a non-transposing instrument with no octave displacement, unlike the xylophone which sounds one octave higher than written and the glockenspiel which sounds two octaves higher than written.

PVC resonators


Part of the key to the marimba's rich sound is its resonators. These are metal tubes (usually aluminium) that hang below each bar. The length varies according to the frequency that the bar produces. Vibrations from the bars resonate as they pass through the tubes, which amplify the tone in a manner very similar to the way in which the body of a guitar or cello would. In instruments exceeding 4½ octaves, the length of tubing required for the bass notes exceeds the height of the instrument. Some manufacturers, such as DeMorrow and Malletech, compensate for this by bending the ends of the tubes. This involves soldering smaller straight sections of tubes to form "curved" tubes. Both DeMorrow and Malletech use brass rather than aluminium. Others, such as Adams and Yamaha, expand the tubes into large box-shaped bottoms, resulting in the necessary amount of resonating space without having to extend the tubes. This result is achieved by the custom manufacturer Marimba One by widening the resonators into an oval shape, with the lowest ones reaching nearly a foot in width, and doubling the tube up inside the lowest resonators.

Resonator tuning involves adjusting "stops" in the tubes themselves to compensate for temperature and humidity conditions in the room where the instrument is stored. Some companies offer adjustment in the upper octaves only. Others do not have any adjustable stops. Still some companies (Malletech and DeMorrow) offer full range adjustable stops.

On many marimbas, decorative resonators are added to fill the gaps in the accidental resonator bank. In addition to this, the resonator lengths are sometimes altered to form a decorative arch, such as in the Musser M-250. This does not affect the resonant properties, because the end plugs in the resonators are still placed at their respective lengths.


The mallet shaft is commonly made of wood, usually birch, but may also be rattan or fiberglass. The most common diameter of the shaft is around 5/16". Shafts made of rattan have a certain elasticity to them, while birch has almost no give. Professionals use both depending on their preferences, whether they are playing with two mallets or more, and which grip they use if they are using a four-mallet grip.

Appropriate mallets for the instrument depend on the range. The material at the end of the shaft is almost always a type of rubber, usually wrapped with yarn. Softer mallets are used at the lowest notes, and harder mallets are used at the highest notes. Mallets that are too hard will damage the instrument, and mallets that might be appropriate for the upper range could damage the notes in the lower range (especially on a padouk or rosewood instrument). On the lower notes, the bars are larger, and require a heavier mallet to bring out a strong fundamental. Because of the need to use different hardnesses of mallets, some players, when playing with four or more mallets, might use graduated mallets to match the bars that they are playing (softer on the left, harder on the right).

Some mallets, called "two-toned" or "multi-tonal", have a hard core, loosely wrapped with yarn. These are designed to sound articulate when playing at a loud dynamic, and broader at the quieter dynamics.

Mallet technique

Modern marimba music calls for simultaneous use of between two and four mallets (sometimes up to six), granting the performer the ability to play chords or music with large interval skips more easily. Multiple mallets are held in the same hand using any of a number of techniques or grips. For two mallets in each hand, the most common grips are the Burton grip (made popular by Gary Burton), the Traditional Grip (or "cross grip") and the Musser-Stevens grip (made popular by Leigh Howard Stevens). Each grip is perceived to have its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, some marimbists feel the Musser-Stevens grip is more suitable for quick interval changes, while the Burton grip is more suitable for stronger playing or switching between chords and single-note melody lines. The Traditional Grip gives a greater dynamic range and freedom of playing. The choice of grip varies by region (the Musser-Stevens grip and the Burton grip are more popular in the United States, while the traditional grip is more popular in Japan), by instrument (the Burton grip is less likely to be used on marimba than on a vibraphone) and by the preference of the individual performer.

The six-mallet grip is generally a combination of these three grips. Six mallet marimba grip has been used for years by Mexican and Central American marimbists. Keiko Abe has written a number of compositions for six mallets, including a section in her concerto Prism Rhapsody. Other marimbists/composers using this technique include Dean Gronemeier, Robert Paterson and Kai Stensgaard.

The traditional instrument

"The Marimba" from "The Capitals of Spanish America" (1888)
Folk marimba with gourds, Highland Guatemala

In the most traditional versions, various sizes of natural gourds are attached below the keys to act as resonators; in more sophisticated versions carved wooden resonators are substituted, allowing for more precise tuning of pitch. In Central America, a hole is often carved into the bottom of each resonator and then covered with thin sheep skin to add a characteristic "buzzing" or "rattling" sound known as charleo.[4] In more contemporary-style marimbas, wood is replaced by PVC tubing. The holes in the bottoms of the tubes are covered with a thin layer of paper to produce the buzzing noise.

Traditional marimba bands are especially popular in Guatemala where they are the national symbol of culture, but are also strongly established in southern Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as well as among Afro-Ecuadorians and Afro-Colombians.

Classical works with the marimba

A marimba player (NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hanover, 2003)
  • Paul Creston: Concertino for Marimba (1940)
  • John Harbison: Concerto for Bass Viol (2005)
  • Andersen Viana: Grlashodibzntmev for Vibraphone and Marimba (2006)
  • Hans Werner Henze: Five Scenes from the Snow Country for Marimba solo (1978)
  • Linda Maxey: The Artistry of the Marimba (1994)
  • Olivier Messiaen: La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ ("The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ"), large 10-part chorus, piano solo, cello solo, flute solo, clarinet solo, xylorimba solo, vibraphone solo, large orchestra (1965–69)
  • Olivier Messiaen: Saint-François d'Assise (Saint Francis of Assisi, opera)
  • Darius Milhaud: Concerto for Marimba, Vibraphone and Orchestra, Op. 278 (1947)
  • Luigi Morleo: Concerto per Marimba e Archi (1993)
  • Thea Musgrave: Journey through a Japanese Landscape (1994)
  • Andrea Poggiali: Volution (2008)
  • Carlos Rafael Rivera: Popol-Vuh (Four Mayan Scenes for Orchestra), small orchestra (2005)
  • Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (1976), Six Marimbas (1986), Nagoya Marimbas (for two marimbas) (1994)
  • Anders Koppel: Marimba Concertos 1-4 (1995-2005), Tarantella' (for violin and marimba) (2001), Toccata (for marimba and vibraphone) (1990)
  • Ney Rosauro: Concerto For Marimba and Orchestra (1986), Concerto No. 2 for Marimba and Orchestra (2001), numerous solo works
  • Joseph Schwantner: Velocities (1990)
  • Paul Smadbeck: Rhythm Song (1984)
  • William Susman: Amores Montuños (2008) for flute & marimba, Marimba Montuño (2002) for solo marimba
  • William Susman: Three Different Keyboards (2001) for accordion, marimba & piano, Exposé (1989) for two marimbas, two violins & piano
  • Josef Tal: Chamber Music (1982) for Recorder, Marimba and Harpsichord
  • Noah D. Taylor: Concerto No. 1, for Marimba and Orchestra (2003)
  • Augusta Read Thomas: Silhouettes (2004)
  • Aisha Duo: Quiet Songs (2005)
  • Safri Duo: Baya Baya

The marimba in other music

There have been numerous jazz vibraphonists who also played the marimba. Notable among them are Gary Burton, David Friedman, Stefon Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke, Steve Nelson, Red Norvo, Dave Pike, Gloria Parker, Dave Samuels and Arthur Lipner.

Marimba was played famously by Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones' songs "Under My Thumb" and "Out of Time." "Island Girl" by Elton John and "Moonlight Feels Right" by Starbuck also prominently feature the instrument. Ruth Underwood played an electrically amplified marimba in Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Art Tripp played the marimba on several of Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's albums, most notably on Lick My Decals Off, Baby and The Spotlight Kid. Victor Feldman played the marimba on several of Steely Dan's early albums. It is played at the start of "Mamma Mia" by ABBA.[5] Percussionist Evelyn Glennie has collaborated with Björk and can be heard playing the marimba on Post and Telegram, as well as "Oxygen". Jack White played marimba on "The Nurse", a song on The White Stripes' album Get Behind Me Satan. In 2003, Marina Calzado Linage recorded an album bridging the gap between academic and popular music, Marimba de Buenos Aires, featuring music by Ástor Piazzolla. In 2009, Canadian musician Spencer Krug, working under the moniker 'Moonface', released a 20 minute continuous piece called Dreamland EP: Marimba And Shit-Drums with Jagjaguwar. The recording consists entirely of marimba, drums and vocals and comprises many movements and recurring themes.

See also


  1. ^ Helmut Brenner: Marimbas in Lateinamerika. Historische Fakten und Status quo der Marimbatraditionen in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Kolumbien, Ecuador und Brasilien but mainly un Guatemala (=Studien und Materialien zur Musikwissenschaft 43), Hildesheim–Zürich–New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2007.
  2. ^ "Marimba Bars". Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "Making the Bars". Crafty Music Teachers. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Chenowith, Vida. The Marimbas of Guatemala. , quoted in Squyres, Danielle (2002-01-02). "The Marimba, Xylophone and Orchestra Bells". Mechanical Music Digest Archives. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  5. ^ "Mamma Mia – The Song That Saved ABBA". ABBA - The Official Site. Polar Music International.–-the-song-that-saved-abba. Retrieved 25 September 2009. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Marimba — Tesitura …   Wikipedia Español

  • marimba — MARÍMBA s. (muz.) balafon. (marimba este un instrument de percuţie african.) Trimis de siveco, 05.08.2004. Sursa: Sinonime  MARÍMBA s.f. Balafon. [< sp. marimba < cuv. bantu]. Trimis de LauraGellner, 13.09.2007. Sursa: DN  MARÍMBA s. f.… …   Dicționar Român

  • marimba — [ marimba ] n. m. • 1777; empr. à une langue africaine, probablt bantoue (Congo) ♦ Xylophone africain dont chaque lame est munie d un résonateur en bambou, en bois, ou en calebasse. Des marimbas. ● marimba nom masculin Xylophone africain dont… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • marimbă — MARÍMBĂ, marimbe, s.f. (muz.) Balafon. – Din fr. marimba. Trimis de claudia, 13.09.2007. Sursa: DEX 98  marímbă s. f., g. d. art. marímbei, pl. marímbe Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar ortografic …   Dicționar Român

  • marimba — 1704, from an African language, probably Bantu (Cf. Kimbundu and Swahili marimba, malimba, name of a xylophone like instrument) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Marimba — Ma*rim ba, n. [Pg.] A musical istrument of percussion, consisting of bars yielding musical tones when struck. Knight. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • marimba — s. f. 1. Instrumento musical formado por lâminas de vidro ou metal, graduadas em escala, que se percutem com baquetas. 2. Espécie de tambor dos cafres …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • marimba — marìmba ž DEFINICIJA glazb. udaraljka sa 16 do 19 drvenih pločica slična ksilofonu; podrijetlom afričko narodno glazbalo ETIMOLOGIJA port. ← egz …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • marimba — sustantivo femenino 1. Instrumento musical de percusión parecido al xilófono que se toca en América. 2. Uso/registro: coloquial. Origen: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay. Paliza, zurra o castigo. 3. Uso/re …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • marimba — (De or. africano). 1. f. Especie de tambor que se usa en algunas partes de África. 2. Instrumento musical en que se percuten listones de madera, como en el xilófono. 3. Am. Instrumento musical en que se percuten con un macillo blando tiras de… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • marimba — [mə rim′bə] n. [Mbundu, a percussive instrument resembling the xylophone, akin to Tshiluba madimba] a musical instrument somewhat like a xylophone, consisting of a series of hard wooden bars, usually with resonators beneath, struck with small… …   English World dictionary

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