Conventional bass mallet percussion instruments are furthermore structurally complex in that for attaining optimum sound volume the individual resonance boxes must be adapted to the bars, so that sometimes each individual resonance space has a different height or in addition inserts that reduce the size of the space are provided in the interior of the resonance spaces. This clearly increases the structural complexity of such an instrument when there are stringent demands placed on sound quality for the instrument.
As the appreciation of the fact of definite musical tones being obtainable on instruments took root and grew in the human mind, and especially as these tones began to be arranged in definite series or scales, another instrument, but one on which could be produced not only a tone having a definite pitch, but a whole series or scale of tones. Hence it was as capable of reproducing a melody as some of the primitive pipes or flutes. This was the xylophone. This instrument, having its far distant origin in the two sticks of wood which were struck together to produce a rhythmical noise by the most primitive savages, has been brought to its greatest perfection by the Africans and the Guatemalans.
As a rule, mallet percussion instruments such as xylophones and metallophones require a large resonance volume in the bass range in order to be able to radiate the low pitches with sufficient robustness of sound. This necessarily leads to such instruments being quite large. On the other hand, instruments used during instruction in school frequently must be moved between rooms so that smaller instruments that are easier to handle would be advantageous. Smaller instruments would furthermore be advantageous with respect to storage space, both in manufacturing and in commerce.
As for the tone of the two instruments the Marimba is by far more pleasant to the ear as its tone can be made to resemble that of an organ. The Xylophone has a very sharp or brilliant tone. It is usually played with a much harder mallet than that which is used on the Marimba. The tone of the Marimba can be made to sound different by the use of the many different shape and size mallets.
The mallets: The sound also depends greatly on the kind of mallet used to hit the bar, whether it is made of metal, wood, plastic, or rubber, and whether the material is bare or wound with yarn or cord. The instruments can be played with one mallet in each hand but are frequently played with two mallets in each hand, gripped in such a way that each mallet can move independently and four notes can be played at a time. Some pieces even call for three mallets in each hand!
Today's modern models still employ this original design. Tuned bars of rosewood or metal are strung over a wooden frame. The resonator is usually a measured metal tube, sealed on the bottom. This enclosed chamber provides a natural amplification for each bar. The bars are tuned chromatically, like the keys of a piano. All of the instruments are played with thin wooden rods with a small, hard rubber or plastic ball on the end. These "mallets" sometimes have yarn wrapped around the rubber ball to soften the sound when it strikes the bar.
The mallet percussion instruments are one of the oldest musical instruments invented, and probably the first pitched instruments made by man. The oldest surviving musical instruments is a stone marimba or lithophone discovered by the French ethnologist, George Condominas, in 1949, near the village of Ndut Lieng Krak, Vietnam1. Primitive man made mallet percussion instrument with other material, such as wood or gourd. It is the first type of "Xylophone". The Biblical reference to the "ugab" dates a fully developed wooden mallet percussion instrument from 3,500 B.C. 2. It is a "portable" instrument with bars of different lenght suspended on a frame over gourd or bamboo resonators. Different version of Primitive xylophones are found in different parts of the world, mainly among the African and the Orient culture.
The Xylophone is the most common instrument of the mallet percussion family. The bars are usually made from Rosewood, although sometimes they are made from synthetic materials. The Xylophone has a high sharp, short sound, and is often used in Orchestral Music for this effect. The Xylophone is generally played with two mallets, but can be played with four.
The four main mallet percussion instruments, also known as keyboard percussion instruments, are the glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone. They are all played by using mallets to strike bars in the pattern of a piano keyboard, but they differ in their size, tonal range, material (metal or wood/fiberglass), and resonators (hollow tubes below the bars that amplify the tone).
The family of mallet percussion is a fascinating one to explore. These are some of the oldest musical instruments invented, and probably the first pitched instruments created by man. Historians have dated the first fully developed Xylophone to 3500 B.C. Different versions of the primitive Xylophone began to appear in Africa and the Orient in the 14th century. In Africa the instrument transformed into the "Marimba". African slaves introduced the African Marimba to Latin America during the years of the slave trade. In Europe, Mallet Percussion instruments were first introduced to European orchestras in 1874.