Xylophones are a type of percussion instrument made with a row of wooden bars similar in shape and appearance to a piano keyboard. Striking the bars with wooden or plastic mallets is what creates their distinct, gentle sound. And like piano keys, the bars can be tuned. It’s worth noting that the bars have to be made out of wood for the instrument to be a xylophone. (Rosewood is widely considered the best choice.) If the bars are made out of metal, the instrument is actually a glockenspiel. Though they are virtually identical in appearance and most other respects, the metal keys of a glockenspiel create a different sound from a xylophone, so they are technically different instruments. Xylophones are a popular beginner instrument and toy for young children since they’re easy to use, make loud, fun noises, and kids will thoroughly enjoy smacking them with the mallets. Xylophones are also common in the percussion section of many classical bands and orchestras. If you’re looking to buy a new xylophone for your child or to learn to play yourself, here are a few we recommend.
What to Consider in Xylophones
Here are a few things to think about before buying a xylophone:
- Age Range: Do you intend to purchase the xylophone for a child, teenager, or adult? If you’re buying for a child, how old are they? There are play xylophones designed specifically for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. These are going to be different from xylophones for slightly older children, in both design and size. Even if you are buying for an elementary school-aged child or a preteen, they probably aren’t going to be tall enough to handle a full-sized xylophone for adults. And even some adults may do better with a smaller xylophone if they’re just starting to learn to play. Basically, be sure to take the age and experience level of the person the xylophone is for into consideration.
- Tone: Like some other instruments, xylophones can have different timbres and ranges depending on the type. If you’re buying for an adult, experienced player, or an orchestra, you may have a choice between alto, bass, and soprano xylophones. Alto xylophones have the widest range of the three, which makes them the most versatile. It works well for solos and group numbers alike. If used to play music for a choir, alto xylophones will sound great with any age group, from children to senior citizens. Soprano xylophones are an octave higher than altos, and they make a sharper, drier sound. Bass xylophones sound an octave lower than altos and have a fuller, warmer (but not overwhelming sound). They’re also the largest of the three. Regardless of type, the range of octaves on a xylophone will vary depending on if they’re meant to be a concert instrument or not. Concert xylophones will possess a wider range of octaves than recreational or personal ones.
- Mallets: Any xylophone you buy should come with at least one set of its own mallets. While this can be a money saver, you’ll also want to consider which type of mallets are best for you and how they’ll affect the sound of your instrument. Xylophone mallets are made of plastic, rubber, or wood. Harder materials will create a louder, brighter tone, while soft ones like rubber will create a more rounded, warmer sound. The size of the mallet’s head will affect the xylophone’s sound, too. Larger heads create more rounded tones, while smaller ones make an almost chirpy sound. You may also want to have more than one set of mallets on hand so you can create different tones from the same instrument. Also bear in mind that the mallets shouldn’t be made of a harder material than the xylophone itself, as this runs the risk of damaging your instrument.
Best for Preschoolers: Melissa & Doug Caterpillar Xylophone
Xylophones are a great toy and instrument choice for young children. Not only are they easy to use, but they can actually help with the development of fine motor skills while introducing them to music and encouraging creativity. Your little one will love everything about this xylophone, from the rainbow color scheme to the caterpillar design to the music they make when they bang on it. Even though it’s much smaller than a full-sized xylophone, its keys have a full range of octaves so that your child can actually learn about music notes, rhythms, and intervals. A small, double-sided song card comes included with your purchase so your child can play an actual song or two if they so choose. The instrument is shaped to resemble a caterpillar, with the rainbow keys serving as the body and a smiling face on one wooden end. The face is topped with two slots to hold the included wooden mallets, which become the caterpillar’s antennae when stored. It’s ideal for kids ages 3 to 6.
Best for Toddlers: Fisher-Price Classic Xylophone
It’s great to introduce your baby or toddler to music, and this little xylophone is the perfect first instrument to give them. A classic toy and instrument in one, it’s designed for any infants aged 18 months or older, a great way to help them develop and perfect their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills while playing music and having fun. The rainbow-colored keys are mounted on a little wheeled wagon that your child can pull around from room to room to their heart’s content. You won’t have to carry or move the toy around for them. The plastic yellow mallet is attached to the wagon by a cord, so you’ll never have to worry about it getting lost.
Best for Kids: D’Luca Wood Xylophone with Music Cards
Once your child has learned basic notes and songs, you’ll want to upgrade them from a plastic toy xylophone to a real one, so they can learn to play in earnest. This model is an excellent starter xylophone for any young children aged 3 years and up. It has 12 individual, labeled keys, allowing children to learn simple but full songs. The frame, bars, and the two included mallets are all made from solid wood. It’s approximately 14 inches long, small and compact enough for children to manage easily, and without the bulkiness of a stand or resonator frame that full-sized xylophones often require. Five easy-to-follow, double-sided music cards come included with the instrument. They’re printed with classic childhood songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Old McDonald,” for 10 songs in total that your child can learn.
Best for Adults: Suzuki Music AX-200 Alto Xylophone
If you’re looking for a full-sized xylophone for adults or an orchestra, this model is a worthwhile option to consider. Not only do the genuine, premium rosewood keys in an attractive shade of red-brown create a warm, timbric resonance, but the instrument comes pre-tuned and pre-balanced to perfection. The bottom positioned bar holds pins to prevent the keys from getting removed improperly, bending, or damage. The cloth cover tubing further increases the instrument’s durability. The included stand also offers storage for the two included mallets and chromatic bar. The wooden mallets have large, round tips made of matching rosewood for a louder, more rounded sound. Best of all, you can buy this xylophone as an alto, bass, or soprano model, and matching cases are available for purchase for each.