Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play

Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play

The melodic overflows of this Afro-Ecuadorian idiophone fascinate, have a hypnotic effect. More than 2000 thousand years ago, the natives of the African continent invented the marimba using only a tree and a gourd. Today, this percussion musical instrument is used in modern music, complements popular works, and sounds in ethnic compositions.

What is marimba

The instrument is a type of xylophone. Widely distributed in America, Mexico, Indonesia. It can be used solo, often used in an ensemble. Due to the quiet sound, it is rarely included in the orchestra. The marimba is placed on the floor. The performer plays by striking with sticks with rubber or thread-wrapped tips.

Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play

Difference from xylophone

Both instruments belong to the percussion family, but have structural differences. The xylophone consists of bars of different lengths arranged in one row. The marimba has piano-like lattices, so the range and timbre is wider.

The difference between the xylophone and the African idiophone is also in the length of the resonators. Their function was previously performed by dried pumpkins. Today resonating tubes are made of metal and wood. The xylophone is shorter. The sound spectrum of the marimba is from three to five octaves, the xylophone reproduces the sound of notes within two to four octaves.

Tool device

Marimba consists of a frame on which a frame of wooden blocks is located. Rosewood is traditionally used. Acousticist and instrument maker John C. Deegan once proved that the wood of the Honduran tree is the best conductor of sound. The bars are arranged like the keys of a piano. They are also configured. Under them are resonators. Deegan replaced the traditional wooden resonators with metal ones.

Beaters are used to play the marimba. Their tips are tied with cotton or woolen threads.

The spectrum of sound depends on the correct selection of beaters. It can resemble a xylophone, be sharp, clicky or drawl organ.

Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play

History of occurrence

The artist Manuel Paz depicted a musical instrument resembling a marimba in one of his paintings. On the canvas, one person played, the other listened to music. This proves that already several centuries ago the African idiophone was popular in North America.

Scientists believe that the history of its occurrence was even earlier. It was played by representatives of the Mandigo tribe, using blows on wood for entertainment, rituals, during the burial of fellow tribesmen. In the Northern Transvaal, Bantu people came up with the idea of ​​placing wooden blocks on an arc, and under it they hung wooden tubes in the form of “sausages”.

In South Africa, there is a legend according to which the goddess Marimba entertained herself by playing an amazing instrument. She hung pieces of wood, and under them she placed dried pumpkins. Africans consider it their traditional instrument. In the past, the inhabitants of the continent were entertained by wandering marimbieros. Ecuador has a national dance of the same name. It is believed that during the dance, the performers express the love of freedom and originality of the people.

Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play
Ancient instrument pattern


After the experiments of John C. Deegan, the musical possibilities of the marimba expanded. The instrument went into mass production, began to be used by ensembles, orchestras. In the middle of the last century, he came to Japan. The inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun were captivated by the sound of an unusual idiophone. There were schools for learning to play on it.

At the end of the last century, the marimba was firmly entrenched in European musical culture. Today there are unique specimens with a sound range of up to six octaves. Performers use various sticks to expand, change, and make the sound more expressive.

Musical works have been written for the marimba. Composers Olivier Messiaen, Karen Tanaka, Steve Reich, Andrey Doinikov used it in their compositions. They showed how an African instrument can sound in combination with bassoon, violin, cello, piano.

Surprisingly, many people install ringtones recorded on the marimba on their phones, not even suspecting what kind of instrument sounds during the call. You can hear it in the songs of ABBA, Qween, Rolling Stones.

Play technique

Among other percussion musical instruments, the marimba is considered one of the most difficult to master. It can be played by one or more people. The performer must not only know the structure and structure of the idiophone, but also masterfully master four sticks at once. He holds them in both hands, holding two in each. The beaters can be placed in the palm of your hand, intersecting with each other. This method is called “crossover”. Or held between the fingers – the Messer method.

Marimba: description of the instrument, composition, sound, use, how to play

Famous performers

In the 70s L.Kh. Stevens has been a huge contributor to the adaptation of the marimba to academic music. He performed many works, wrote ways to play the instrument. Famous performers include the Japanese composer Keiko Abe. On the marimba, she performed classical and folk music, traveled all over the world, and participated in international competitions. In 2016 she gave a concert at the hall of the Mariinsky Theatre. Other musicians performing with this instrument include Robert Van Size, Martin Grubinger, Bogdan Bocanu, Gordon Stout.

Marimbu is original, its sound is able to fascinate, and the movements of the beaters create a feeling similar to hypnosis. Having passed through the centuries, the African idiophone has achieved significant success in academic music, it is used to perform Latin, jazz, pop and rock compositions.

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