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What is the difference between an xylophone and a marimba? What about a glockenspiel and a xylophone? Is it just the material and size of glockenspiel?

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  • I have seen glockenspielen played in marching bands (carried), but never any of the other instruments. Naturally, the marching band version of the glockenspiel is small (for portability).
    – user19346
    Mar 10 '15 at 7:58
  • Marching xylophones do exist, so that's not a hard & fast rule. Apr 28 at 19:15
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There are actually quite major differences:

  • The Xylophone has a series of wooden bars, tuned to the relevant notes

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  • The marimba has similar wooden bars with resonators (originally gourds, now tubes) underneath

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  • The Vibraphone is a variant of the marimba, often with metal bars, but with a spinning butterfly at the top of the resonator giving a tremolo effect

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  • The Glockenspiel has metal bars, again tuned to the relevant notes

enter image description here

There are also a range of other similar instruments, and all of the above have variants in terms of materials, tuning, shape etc.

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  • 2
    Xylo is Greek, glocken is German, but you're probably aware of those facts, anyhow.Don't know if that is a nod to where they were 'invented'.
    – Tim
    Oct 13 '14 at 11:39
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    I would also like to point out that xylophones and glockenspiels are almost exclusively played with hard mallets, whereas marimbas and vibraphones are usually played with soft mallets.
    – TylerH
    Oct 13 '14 at 15:31
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    Also, the marimba and vibraphone sound as written, the xylo 1 octave higher, and the glock 2 octaves higher. Jun 28 '16 at 21:01
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Xylo means wood. Metallo is metal.

Xylo(phone) Metallo(phone)
Bars Only Xylophone F4-C8
Xylorimba C3-C8
Glockenspiel G5-C8
Bars + Resonators Marimba (C2 to A2)-C7 Vibraphone F3-F6

Xylophone and metallophone may both signify their group of instruments (wooden or metal bars).

When you type "xylorimba" or "xylophone" in google image search, you'll see that they often like to sell them with resonators. Thus what really differentiates them is their range:

  • Xylophones have a range of two-and-a-half to four octaves.
  • Marimbas have a larger range, usually between three and five octaves.
  • Xylorimba (sometimes referred to as xylo-marimba or marimba-xylophone) is a xylophone with an extended range downwards to include those pitches normally in the range of the marimba.

The written staff notes also differ from their actual pitch. E.g. for convenience Xylophone is written F3-C7, but it sounds an octave higher: F4-C8. Glockenspiel is written G3-C6, but sounds two octaves higher. (C4 is the "middle C", the sound/pitch that the middle C key of piano makes)

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Since xylorimba wasn't touched on in the other answer, the xylorimba is a bit more of a student instrument, typically referring to an instrument with a 4 octave range and bars of constant xylophone width. The sound it typically much more marimba-like than xylophonic, especially in the low octave.

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In his answer (here) @Doktor Mayhem mentions that

all of the above have variants in terms of materials, tuning, shape etc.

(emphasis mine).

There's an intriguing, if baffling, note about these tuning differences on Yamaha's site in the page What is the difference between the marimba and the xylophone?

The marimba has soft tones, and the xylophone has hard tones. This difference is the result of each instrument's tuning method. The marimba is tuned on even-numbered harmonics, with tuning on the fundamental pitch, the fourth harmonic, and the 10th harmonic. The xylophone, however, is tuned on the fundamental pitch and the odd-numbered third harmonic. Tuning the same C tone plate, on the marimba, the bar is matched to C, high C, and high E; on the xylophone, the bar is matched to C and high G. When the marimba, whose harmonics resemble those of woodwind and string instruments, is played with an orchestra, the notes blend in. The reason that the xylophone's notes stand out is that the tuning method is different.

(Yamaha's xylophones are tuned with odd-numbered harmonics, but some manufacturers make instruments tuned with even-numbered harmonics.)

They include a diagram too:

Yamaha's diagram of marimba and xylophone tuning differences

It's worth checking the Yamaha page (here), it also includes two videos so you can see and hear the difference clearly.

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