Fun Facts About the Marimba

by Ian Farquharson
The marimba plays as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble.

The marimba plays as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. Images

With wooden keys set up in a similar manner to a piano and an appearance that somewhat resembles a xylophone, the marimba forms part of the percussion family of instruments. The beautiful sound it produces enables its use as a solo instrument or as part of a musical ensemble, and researching the marimba reveals some interesting facts.


One legend regarding the origins of the marimba comes from South Africa. A Zulu myth contends that a goddess with the name "Marimba" created an instrument by placing wooden bars over hanging gourds, with this being a forerunner of the modern marimba.


Development of the modern instrument took place in Guatemala and America. A Guatemalan marimba maker, Sebastian Hurtado, is credited with improving the design of the instrument in the late 1800s. He did this by setting out the keys in a style similar to a piano as well as using hanging wooden resonators. In the U.S., John Calhoun Deagan formed a company to manufacture percussion instruments. In the early 1900s, the company produced a marimba with metal resonator pipes.

Materials and Construction

The materials used in the production of a marimba include rosewood for the keys and aluminum for the resonator pipes. Some instruments have brass resonators, although these have a much greater weight than aluminum pipes. Most marimbas break down into component parts to make the instrument easier to transport.


Playing a marimba involves striking the keys with beaters known as mallets. While one mallet in each hand is sufficient to play a tune, those that gain proficiency on the instrument can wield two or even three mallets in each hand when playing.

Famous Marimba Players

Many great marimba players have excelled on the instrument over the years. Some who have gained international recognition include Nancy Zeltsman, Robert van Sice, Robert Paterson and Evelyn Glennie.

Uses in Popular Music

Many musical styles, from classical to pop, can use the marimba. Modern recordings on which marimba can be heard include "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones, "Mamma Mia" by ABBA and "Post" by Bjork.

National Instrument

The history of the marimba in Guatemala led to it becoming the national instrument of the country in 1978. The marimba remains an important part of traditional Guatemalan music.

About the Author

Ian Farquharson has worked as a freelance writer since 2008. He has written for individual clients, as well as various online publications, and brings sports and travel expertise to eHow. He has a Bachelor of Engineering in civil engineering from Dundee College of Technology.

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