Learning the basics of playing the xylophone provides you with the skills you need to start learning songs and composing your own music. Each vertical block on the xylophone produces a different note when struck with a beater, which classifies the xylophone as a tuned percussion instrument. Understanding the layout of the xylophone, how to hold the beaters, how to play individual notes in scales and how to play chords is all you need to know to start learning xylophone songs.
Holding the Beaters
Beaters are sticks with a circular ball on one end. This end is used to strike the notes on the xylophone. Hold the beater so that the opposite end rests in the center of your lower palm. Hold the stick a little further up between your thumb and your index finger. The beater should go over the side of your index finger and be supported by the large surface of your thumb. Avoid squeezing the beater, because this adds unnecessary tension. You can also hold two beaters in one hand if you grip one this way and another in your ring and pinky fingers. Grip the lower section of the beater with your pinky and ring finger so it is tucked into the second joint of your ring finger and between the first and second joint of your index finger. The beater should go over the middle finger. The end of the beater should finish at the pinky finger side of your palm.
Xylophones are arranged like pianos. The bottom row of notes is composed of “whole” notes, meaning that there are no sharps or flats there. The top row of notes is divided into groups of two and three. The note on the left of the group of two notes is C sharp. On the bottom row, the note to the left of C sharp is C. The notes move sequentially onward as you move to the right. The note to the right of the C and C sharp notes on the bottom row is D. The next note on the top row is D sharp, and the note on the bottom row to the right of D sharp is E. The note to the right of it is F, and the next note (on the top row again) is F sharp. This continues in the same way across the xylophone.
Scales are groups of notes that can be played to form a particular sound. Musical scales are the same regardless of the instrument you are playing, so you can use websites not specifically designed for the xylophone to learn them. Play the C major scale by playing C, D, E, F, G, A and B. These are all of the notes on the bottom row. Each scale has a different number of sharp and flat notes.
Chords are groups of three or four notes played simultaneously. Generally, you can create major chords by using the first, third and fifth notes of a certain scale. Play a C major chord by playing C, E and G together. You can add an extra, higher C if you are using four beaters. Learn which notes make up other chords and practice them. Play the C major chord, the F major chord and the G major chord to write a simple song in the key of C major.
Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.