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Instrument Exploration: Mallet Instruments!


April 05, 2020

Age Range: K-6

Learning Objective: Students will learn about four mallet instruments.

Note to Teacher: This lesson features orchestral mallet instruments. Adapt and modify the lesson to demonstrate on Orff instruments if you have access.

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1. Mallet instruments are a part of the percussion family. There are many different kinds of mallet instruments. Today you will learn about four different kinds of mallet instruments, and tomorrow you can make your own water xylophone.

Mallet instruments
Wikimedia Commons

2. Glockenspiel: Also known as "bells," the glockenspiel has thin metal bars that gradually decrease in size as you move from left to right. Smaller bars make higher sounds. The bars on top are organized like the black keys on a piano.

Listen to this glockenspiel from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute:

Mallet instruments

3. Xylophone: Xylophones have bars made of wood. Like the glockenspiel, the notes get higher as the bars get smaller. There are many different kinds of xylophones. The ones usually used in orchestras look like this. You can see the mallets – or sticks – really well in this picture.

Listen to the xylophone in "Fossils" from Carnival of the Animals, by Camille Saint-Saens:

Mallet instruments
Wikimedia Commons

4. Vibraphone: The vibraphone has bars made of metal. There are resonators, or tubes, underneath each bar and inside each tube is a little valve that rotates when you flip on a switch to turn the motor on. You have to plug in the vibraphone to turn the motor on. It creates a very special effect. The vibraphone also has a pedal that helps the notes ring for a very long time.

Listen to a little vibraphone music:

Mallet instruments

5. Marimba: Like the xylophone, the bars on the marimba are made of wood. The main difference between the xylophone and the marimba is that the marimba is much bigger. How do you think that changes the sound? Since the marimba is bigger, it plays lower sounds.

Listen to the marimba alone in Keiko Abe's Dream of the Cherry Blossoms:

Listen and watch two marimbas and two vibraphones in Clocks in Motion-Gravity, by Marc Mellits:

Mallet instrument listening chart
Katie Condon/MPR

6. Compare and contrast the sound of each instrument. How would you describe each instrument's sound? What is the same about each instrument? What is different? Use the listening grid to organize your thoughts.

Have a question or suggestion? Contact Katie Condon, music education specialist!

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