Vibraphone

Courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins
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Pitch range

Vibraphone pitch range, courtesy of Hannah Whale

The vibraphone (called ‘vibes’ for short) was invented in America. It was first used in jazz and pop music in the 1920s, but soon caught on in orchestras.

Vibraphone discs, courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins

Vibraphone discs

It’s like a fancy glockenspiel. It has a set of metal bars arranged from longest (lowest) to shortest (highest). Underneath each bar is a tube (or resonator) to help project the sound – as with the xylophone.

That’s not all, though: on top of each tube is a little disc. The disc is spun round by an electric motor so that when you strike the bar, the sound vibrates and quivers a bit.

The vibraphone even has a ‘sustain’ pedal, which means you can make the notes last longer.

The vibraphone is so called because it makes a throbbing, ‘vibrating’ sound.

A vibraphone can be struck with a beater or bowed with a violin or cello bow.

A vibraphone can be struck with a beater or bowed with a violin or cello bow.

To play it

You strike the bars with beaters, usually made of rubber, yarn, wool or latex. The bars can also be bowed using a violin or cello bow.

The sound

It has a metallic sound but it can be quite soothing, due to the vibrato (vibrating sound). Its sound isn’t crisp like the xylophone’s: it’s as if the edges have been rounded off, making it warmer and more relaxed.

 

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 What is the vibraphone sometimes called for short?

a. Vib
b. Vibes
c. V-phone

 What are the bars made of?

a. Wood
b. Plastic
c. Metal

 What do the bars have underneath?

a. Speakers
b. Tubes
c. Padding

 What else does the vibraphone have?

a. A sustain pedal
b. A soft pedal
c. A mute pedal

 What effect do the little discs have when they are spun?

a. They change the pitch of each note
b. They give a tremolo to the sound
c. They stop the sound

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Selected Vibraphone Extracts

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990)
West Side Story (Symphonic Dances)

The vibraphone shows here that it can be jazzy and cool.

Performers: Florida Philharmonic Orchestra; James Judd

Taken from Naxos 8.559099