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A member of the chromatic percussion family, the modern marimba uses bars made of either a synthetic or wood material, fixed to a movable frame, and struck by a mallet normally wrapped in yarn or cord. The most common application for marimbas is use in schools, by any number of performing ensembles. Concert bands utilize the marimba as a member of the percussion section providing the unique percussive tone for wind ensemble compositions. A jazz band might feature a marimba soloist improvising in a similar manner to a saxophone or trumpet. And within the marching ensemble, multiple marimbas might be used as part of the ‘pit’ to create a unique voice when combined with the other chromatic percussion instruments such as the Vibraphone or Xylophone. As a solo instrument, the marimba has an extremely wide range of compositions available ranging from transcriptions of Bach fugues and inventions to contemporary works by 20th century composers.
Different marimbas will feature different type of bar material and range of the instrument to fit into different price points. Higher end professional instruments will normally have a 4-1/2 to 5-octave range and feature bars made from select rosewood. While more mid-priced instruments might have bars made from other types of wood such as Padouk and might have a 4-octave range. The instruments that utilize a synthetic material for the bars have a durability advantage over the natural wood materials, while being more cost affordable and sustainable. Some manufacturers have developed specific synthetic materials to approximate the nature of organic rosewood such as Acoustalon developed by Yamaha.
There are also digital instruments that utilize the same style of playing as the marimba, often referred as a Xylosynth that can control different digital sounds from an instrument that resembles a marimba or xylophone. Today the marimba is found in all kinds of music from the traditional school application and marching bands/drum corps to rock and pop groups.