What Are The Differences Between Glockenspiels & Marimbas?

Within the percussion instrument world, you'll find an abundance of sub-categories. One of these categories comprehends instruments of the “pitched percussion” variety. This article will detail two instruments that are strikingly similar to each other: The glockenspiel and the marimba.

What are the differences between glockenspiel and marimba? The differences are as follows:

  • The marimba is larger and has wooden bars, while the glockenspiel is smaller with metal bars.
  • The glockenspiel is brighter-sounding than the marimba.
  • Both instruments have distinct pitch ranges.

Throughout this article, we'll be revisiting the differences between glockenspiel and marimba that were laid out above in passing. Nevertheless, let's first examine their history to get a better perspective.

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The Backgrounds Of Glockenspiels And Marimbas

Mallet percussion instruments have been standardized to the point in which they tend to be confused with one another. However, they would not be developed remotely in the same place at the same time.

Let's look at each individually:

The Background Of Glockenspiels

The glockenspiel's history is intimately tied with that of the bell, though these later were conceived as two distinct concepts.

The first metal bells were made in China during the dawn of metallurgy, though we may already find cowbells made of pottery clay in Africa sometime before. Regardless, the Chinese variants would eventually make their way to Western Europe and be given special use in religious circles.

The most primitive version of the instrument comprised multiple bells of graduated length that were struck with the hand. Sometime later, some modifications were made to this early contraption.

By the 16th century, these bells had a keyboard-like layout attached for easy playing. The underlying bells would later be replaced by the metal bars shown in plain sight on modern glockenspiels.

The Background Of Marimbas

The marimba's development is even more bound to another instrument: The xylophone. What's more, the marimba has been deemed a type of xylophone.

The origin of the xylophones (and, hence, of the marimbas) is a subject of speculation. Some theorize that it was created in China during the Bronze Age (around 2,000 B.C.) and then spread into Africa. Others claim that it came out of Africa in parallel to the Chinese version or perhaps even before.

That first instrument was called the harmonicon and consisted of a series of hung wooden bars that were struck to produce notes. At roughly the same time, a similar instrument called the “Ranat” was presumed to have existed in Thailand.

However, the first proof of the existence of the xylophone was found in Southeast Asia in the 1000s. Many of the variants that coexisted by the 14th century in that region included the Gambang and the Gyil. The marimba would also make its appearance around that period.

Alternatively, some sources suggest that the instrument came from Africa instead of Southeast Asia. One of the main reasons for this presupposition comes from the very name of the instrument, which is a Bantú noun that signifies a type of xylophone equipped with gourd resonators. In addition, the marimba was most likely brought to South America by African slaves in the 16th century.

What Are The Differences Between Glockenspiels And Marimbas?

Now, we'll go over the distinctions between glockenspiel and marimba mentioned earlier in the article.

Difference 1: Design

In the initial statement, I stated:

“The marimba is larger and has wooden bars, while the glockenspiel is smaller with metal bars.”

It's beyond discussion that the marimba is incredibly large by comparison. As a matter of fact, marimbas are, to this day, some of the largest mallet instruments in existence. Some models, like the Musser M500, can reach 107″ in length and a low-end width of 41″, which alone is more than double the length of the glockenspiel (17″).

The entire length of the glockenspiel roughly matches the high-end width of the marimba (the narrowest portion), while the former's width is approximately 14″. Glockenspiels, for this reason, are reasonably portable and could be played in marching bands with the aid of a strap.

There are more differences under the bars. The glockenspiel either lacks a resonance device altogether or equips a wooden box for this purpose, sitting underneath the whole instrument.

On the flip side, each wooden bar in the marimba is bound to a resonate pipe or tube at the bottom. Each pipe's length is proportionate to its corresponding bar's size and pitch. Some models include adjustable pipes to tweak the resonance, particularly towards the bass notes.

The other significant difference between the marimba and the glockenspiel is related to the materials, particularly the ones used for the bars. The glockenspiel bars are made of a type of metal (usually aluminum or steel), while the marimba bars are built with hardwood. Regularly, rosewood would be employed, a type of lumber common in South and Central America.

Related article: Is Rosewood A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass

Difference 2: Sound

On another note, I highlighted the following:

The glockenspiel is brighter-sounding than the marimba.”

The frequency of the sound in idiophone instruments (such as the ones under analysis) is closely interconnected to their material. Metal is more conductive, meaning more energy is transmitted from one molecule to another. Contrarily, wood molecules are more loosely packed, meaning that some energy will get lost in the process of producing sound.

This is why wooden sounds are generally warmer and more muffled, whereas metal is more susceptible to “ring” towards the higher end of the frequency spectrum.

The glockenspiel likewise has a more pronounced sustain than the marimba and elicits a greater production of overtones. In contrast, the marimba's sound can be described as “drier” and more harmonically bright/rich.

Difference 3: Pitch Range

Finally, I pointed out the following:

Both instruments have distinct pitch ranges.”

The marimba, being the larger instrument, can stretch up to 5 octaves. Marimbas with 5 octaves will have a range from C2 to C7. In between, you may find those with 4 (F2-C7), 4 1/3 (A2-C7), and 4 octaves (C3-C7). Rarely you'll come across marimbas with 3 octaves (C3-F6).

Conversely, glockenspiels hardly go beyond 3 octaves, and the pitch ranges go from F5 to F8. In some larger models, the bass end gets extended to C5.

As can be ascertained from the values given above, the marimba is able to produce notes 3 octaves lower than the glockenspiel. In comparison, the latter surpasses the higher end of the marimba by almost 1 octave.

Read How Glockenspiels Compare To Other Instruments

Read How Marimbas Compare To Other Instruments

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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