Design of the Modern Marimba
The marimba is a musical instrument made of wooden bars suspended on a frame over any type of tuned resonator that amplifies the sound. The marimba is played with various wood mallets with a core covered with yarn.
The modern marimba that is commonly seen in the United States is the result of factory production over the last hundred years. These instruments are mass-produced through technology, industrial materials and machines, and the division of labor. However, artisans who produce similar instruments with organic materials by hand (like the gyil and lannat) also use modern machinery and materials, so the term modern applies to all instruments that we use in the modern day.
Tuned to the 12-tone chromatic Western scale, the marimba’s bars are organized from low to high notes placed left to right. It’s organized in the same format as the white and black keys on a piano. Marimbas come in various sizes, but the most common ones in the United States have 4.3 octaves of notes (52 keys) and 5.0 octaves (61 keys).
The vibraphone, a similar instrument made of tuned metal bars, has 3.0 octaves of notes (27 notes). There is a damper bar and pedal under the vibraphone to muffle the long ring.
Learn about the resonators under a marimba.
Learn about the physics of a marimba.
How to assemble a marimba.
Origins of the Marimba
Some sources translate the marimba to mean “wood that sings”.
People in almost every culture developed a marimba-like instrument, but one source of the origin of its name is derived from the Bantú languages, a large family of languages spoken in Sub-Sarahan Africa, in which rimba suggests a “a sound of wood” such as a bar, and ma is a cumulative prefix; thus, marimba can be translated as “many sounds of wood”.
Learn about the various histories of mallet keyboard instruments.