Kids Music 101: Xylophones and Glockenspiels

Everyone knows that a xylophone is a classic child’s toy loved the world over.  But did you know that most of the toys that are called xylophones are in fact glockenspiels? A true xylophone has wooden bars. The name comes from the Greek: “xylo” means wood and “phone” means sound. Instruments that look and play like a xylophone, but have metal bars, are really glockenspiels: from the German meaning to “play the bells”. Did you also know that xylophones and glockenspiels are high quality precision musical instruments that when simplified and manufactured as toys lose some of their highly appealing characters?

Xylophone or glokenspiel: Kids Music

For some unknown reason toy manufacturers have been wrongly calling their creations with metal bars “xylophones.” This is almost universal and it seems only the specialist musical instrument manufacturers name these instruments correctly, and worse the market is flooded with really poor quality toys with highly respectable brand names that disappoint consumers because although they may be well made in all other respects, the sound is simply atrocious. Does this sound familiar? If you are confused then hopefully I’ll be able to give you a few guidelines to help with your selection of a suitable barred instrument that will be both well made and have a pleasant sound and offer long term enjoyment.

Understanding the basic difference between xylophones and glockenspiels is the first step. Next is a knowledge of what kinds of instruments are available. First there are the pitched instruments which represent a correctly tuned musical scale and are capable of playing recognizable melodies such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Then there are relatively pitched instruments which have a few bars of differing lengths of random pitches, similar to a garden wind chime. While these are not capable of playing recognizable melodies they are fun to play and encourage creativity musical activity.  They can also be of very good quality with beautiful construction and design. Also available are the stir xylophones which are made in a bowl shape outlined with wooden bars of differing lengths. A spoon or mallet is stirred inside the bowl to create the sounds.

The next main consideration involves an understanding of the different qualities of instrument that are available The pitched instruments can either be high quality with precision, absolute tuning or low quality with inaccurate pitch and although reasonable, still recognizably “out of tune”. High quality instruments are labour intensive to make and require hand tuning by gently shaving each bar. Generally you won’t find these at bargain basement prices. Purchasers need to ask themselves exactly what it is that they require. This is the key to avoiding disappointment.

At Kids Music Toys we have several instruments. First there is the 12 bar coloured xylophone at the lower end of the scenario outlined. It is completely satisfactory as melodies can be played, although with limited precision.  Then there is the beautiful Sevi instrument from the great European toy manufacturer.

The Kindermusik glockenspiel made by Sonor is an example of a high quality glockenspiel. It has 12 bars and also comes with a B flat and F sharp bar enabling a wider range of melodies to be played. It has the highest precision in tuning and the bell like quality is superb. The mallets are housed on board.

Other examples available from Kids Music Toys include the lovely Tatiri glockenspiel, which they call a xylophone, that has less precision but a good tone and very vibrant attractive colours. A single mallet slots neatly into the instrument.

The Halilit baby xylophone (which is also really a glockenspiel) is a truly baby safe instrument which is robust and offers 8 well tuned, but not precise bars, with a safe plastic mallet that is stored on board. This is a favourite of mine.

Play Me have a beautiful oval xylophone which is a high quality wooden instrument with precision pitch and excellent design. This is a large xylophone at the upper end of the toy market.

Why not add a xylophone or glockenspiel to your child’s musical instrument collection.

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One Comment

  1. I just got a Halilit Baby Xylo for my 10 month old and I agree–it’s great! At first I was a bit concerned about the price, but once I openned the box, I thought it was well worth it (I paid $24.99). The toy is very well constructed and the mallet is truly baby-safe. Just be careful with the sheet music–we accidentally left it in his playpen and he ate it! Do you know where I can find a copy or other baby sheet music in that range so I can play him simple tunes? Thanks!

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