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What Is A Marimba?

The marimba is an instrument that is often mistaken for a xylophone. However, while similar, once you hear the difference you’ll realize they are not the same.

The marimba is a special instrument with beautiful tones and rich history. Let’s take a look at this fun and interesting instrument.


The History of The Marimba


While the exact origins of the marimba have been disputed, many believe the marimba originated in Africa. Oral history in Africa talks of holes dug into the ground and wooden bars placed across the holes and struck to create sound. Gourds were eventually attached to the bottom of the bars to resonate with the sound.


The first modern styled marimba was created in 1850 in Mexico. This modern version added legs so that the player could stand up to strike the keys. The elevated marimba from 1850 also had wooden resonators added below the bars. This is the instrument that we play today.


The Marimba vs. Xylophone



There are a few differences between the marimba and the xylophone. The first one is the tone of each instrument. Marimbas tend to have a softer (mellow) tone when played while xylophones have a harder (sharp) tone. This is mainly because they are tuned differently.


The mallets used to play each of the instruments are also slightly different. The xylophone mallets are made of either rubber or plastic and tend to be shorter than the marimba mallets. Marimba mallets are typically covered in either yard or cord, which adds to the softer tone the marimba emits.


What Music Genre Is Marimba Used?

The marimba is a percussion instrument and can be found in many genres of music. Although it is mainly found in ensembles and orchestras, the marimba is versatile enough to be able to be used in many different genres.


The mellow tone works well in classical and jazz music, but can also be incorporated into jazz and even rock and roll! The marimba has been featured on many pop songs over the years by artists such as; The Psychedelic Furs, Thompson Twins, George Harrison, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, and more!


Interesting Facts About The Marimba



The marimba is a fascinating percussion instrument used in many countries around the world. Now that you know a few basics about it, let’s take a look at a few interesting facts about this versatile instrument.

  • A person playing the marimba is called a marimba player or a marimbist.

  • There is a handheld version of the marimba called a karimba.

  • The marimba is the national instrument in Guatemala.

  • The bars of the marimba are made out of rosewood, however, a more affordable version is made of Padauk.

  • In some countries, the marimba is referred to as a marimbaphone.


From its origins to modern applications, the marimba has played a role in music throughout the world. It is an integral part of music history and continues to make an appearance in all genres of music in many different countries. The sound the marimba resonates touches our souls and makes us listen. I hope you have learned something about this amazing percussion instrument!



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