Types of Xylophones

Written by wilmarie groenewald
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Types of Xylophones
The world of xylophones: 5 to 30 keys and everything in between (xylophone image by Christopher Hall from Fotolia.com)

The xylophone is a percussion instrument which originated in Africa and Asia independently. It comes from the idiophone family, which includes xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels and vibraphones. The xylophone type depends on either its origin, size or style. There are hundreds of different xylophones, which might look similar, but differ in sound, size or origin.

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Akadinda and Amadinda

The akadinda originated in Uganda as a 22-key instrument which was reduced to 17 keys in later years. Traditionally, the akadinda was only played for the Ugandan King, the Kabaka. What distinguishes the akadinda from other xylophones is the fact that it is made of mainly banana stems.

The amadinda is a larger version of the akadinda, containing only 12 keys which are all larger than the keys of the akadinda. The amadinda was only played in the Royal Court during court events and was only owned by important men.


The balafon originated in Western Africa as a 21-key instrument, with the option of fixed or free keys. With a fixed key balafon, the keys are suspended by leather straps from a wooden frame, with calabash underneath each key. With the free key balafon, keys are not attached to any frame and can be placed on any padded surface to be played.


The embaire originated in Eastern Africa as a large 21-key instrument. It requires six musicians to play the embaire, three on each side of the instrument. Unlike most xylophones, the keys are struck at the end of the bar and not the middle.


The gambang originated in Indonesia and the Southern Philippines as a 17- to 21-key instrument. The gambang has two variations, the gambang kayu which is made of wooden bars and the gambang gangsa which is made of metal bars.


The gyil originated with the Gur-speaking people of Ghana and Burkina Faso. It is made of 14 wooden keys, attached to a wooden frame, with calabash underneath every key. The gyil is normally played by musicians in pairs.

Kashta Tarang

The kashta tarang is a primitive xylophone from India, also known as a jalatarang. It consists of a collection of porcelain bowls, filled to different levels with water and arranged in a semicircle around the musician. The bowls are then struck with a bamboo to create sounds.


The khmer originated in Cambodia as a 21-key instrument. It consists of wooden bars suspended on string. The khmer is also known as the roneat, and the two main forms include the roneat thung and roneat ek. The roneat thung is a low pitch instrument, normally placed to the left of the roneat ek, which has a higher pitch. Both are shaped in the form of a curved, rectangular boat. The instrument is known in Thailand as the ronat, with the same variations.

Kulintang a Kayo

The kulintang a kayo originated in the Philippines as an instrument with eight keys on top of a rack called an antangan. It is an instrument that has become common in Philippine households and is now known as a kulintang. The kulintang is made of metal instead of wood like most traditional xylophones.


The luntang originated in the Philippines, consisting of only five keys. The keys are made of logs, suspended horizontally. In the Philippines the Maguindanaon people call it luntang, whereas the Yakan people call it kwintangan kayo. It is used most commonly for long distance communication.


The mbila originated in Mozambique as a 19-key instrument. It is made of wooden keys, with hard shell masala appled underneath each key as resonators.


The malimbe originated in Congo and has a male and female form. The male form has 15 wooden keys, where the female form has only nine wooden keys.

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