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.
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.
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.
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?
See if you can answer the questions below!
● What is the vibraphone sometimes called for short?
● What are the bars made of?
● What do the bars have underneath?
● What else does the vibraphone have?
● What effect do the little discs have when they are spun?
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