|Other names||Vibes, Vibraharp, Vibraceleste|
(Directly struck idiophone)
It consists of tuned metal bars and is usually played by holding two or four soft mallets and striking the bars.
A person who plays the vibraphone is called a vibraphonist, vibraharpist, or vibist.
With the pedal up, the bars produce a muted sound.
With the pedal down, the bars sustain for several seconds, or until muted with the pedal.
The vibraphone is commonly used in jazz music, in which it often plays a featured role and was a defining element of the sound of mid-20th-century "Tiki lounge" exotica, as popularized by Arthur Lyman.
By attaching a motor, he could create vibrato effects, hence the name "vibraphone".
This instrument was marketed by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States starting in 1924.
However, this instrument differed significantly from the instrument now called the vibraphone.
The Leedy vibraphone did not have a pedal mechanism and had bars made of steel rather than aluminum.
The popularity of Leedy's instrument led competitor J.C. , the inventor of the original steel marimba which Leedy's design was based on, to ask its chief tuner, Henry Schluter, to develop a similar instrument in 1927. Deagan, Inc.
However, instead of just copying the Leedy design, Schluter introduced several significant improvements: making the bars from aluminum instead of steel for a more "mellow" tone, adjustments to the dimensions and tuning of the bars to eliminate the dissonant harmonics in the Leedy design (further mellowing the tone), and the introduction of a foot-controlled damper bar allowing musicians to play it with more expression.
Schluter's design became more popular than the Leedy design and has become the template for all instruments now called "vibraphone".
However, when Deagan began marketing Schluter's instrument in 1928, they called it the "vibraharp".
Since Deagan trademarked the name, other manufacturers were forced to use the earlier name "vibraphone" for their instruments incorporating the newer design.
The use of the vibraphone in jazz, however, would be pioneered by Lionel Hampton, a jazz drummer from California.
At one recording session with bandleader Louis Armstrong, Hampton was asked to play a vibraphone that had been left behind in the studio.
This resulted in the recording of the song "Memories of You" in 1930, a song often considered to be the first instance of an improvised vibraphone solo.
While the vibraphone has not been used quite as extensively in the realm of classical music, it can often be heard in theatre or film music, such as in Bernstein's West Side Story.
The initial purpose of the vibraphone was to add to the large arsenal of percussion sounds used by vaudeville orchestras for novelty effects.
This use was quickly overwhelmed in the 1930s by its development as a jazz instrument.
As of 2020, it retains its use as a jazz instrument and is established as a major keyboard percussion instrument, often used for solos, in chamber ensembles, and in modern orchestral compositions.
Further information: List of vibraphone manufacturers
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, each manufacturer attracted its own following in various specialties, but the Deagan vibraphones were the models preferred by many of the emerging class of specialist jazz players.
The Deagan company went out of business in the 1980s and its trademark and patents were purchased by Yamaha.
Yamaha continues to make percussion instruments based on the Deagan designs.
The Musser company continues to manufacture vibraphones as part of the Ludwig Drum Company and is considered by many to be the industry standard.
As of 2020, there are numerous manufacturers of the vibraphone that make vibraphones with ranges up to 4 octaves (C3–C7).
The list includes Adams, Bergerault, DeMorrow, Majestic, Malletech, Marimba One, Musser, Premier, and Yamaha.
Larger 3 ⁄2- or 4-octave models from the C below middle C are also becoming more common (C3 to F6 or C7).
Unlike its cousin the glockenspiel, it is a non-transposing instrument, generally written at concert pitch.
However, composers occasionally (for example, Olivier Messiaen) write parts to sound an octave higher.
In the 1930s several manufacturers made soprano vibraphones with a range C4 to C7, notably the Ludwig & Ludwig Model B110 and the Deagan Model 144.
Deagan also made a portable model that had a 2 ⁄2-octave range and resonators made of cardboard (Model 30).
The major components of a vibraphone are the bars, resonators, damper mechanism, motor, and the frame.
Vibraphones are usually played with mallets.
Vibraphone bars are made from aluminum bar stock, cut into blanks of predetermined length.
Holes are drilled through the width of the bars, so they can be suspended by a cord, typically parachute cord.
To maximize the sustain of the bars, the holes are placed at approximately the nodal points of the bar (i.e. the points of minimum amplitude, around which the bar vibrates).
For a uniform bar, the nodal points are located 22.4% from each end of the bar.
Material is ground away from underside of the bars in an arch shape to lower the pitch.
This allows the lower-pitched bars to be a manageable length.
It is also the key to the "mellow" sound of the vibraphone (and marimba, which uses the same deep arch) compared with the brighter xylophone, which uses a shallower arch, and the glockenspiel, which has no arch at all.
These rectangular bars have three primary modes of vibration.
The deep arch causes these modes to align and create a consonant arrangement of intervals: a fundamental pitch, a pitch two octaves above that, and a third pitch an octave and a major third above the second.
For the F3 bar that usually forms the lowest note on a vibraphone, there would be F3 as the fundamental, F5 as the first overtone and A6 as the second overtone.
As a side effect, the arch causes the nodal points of the fundamental vibration to shift closer towards the ends of the bar.
After beveling or rounding the edges, fine-tuning adjustments are made.
If a bar is flat, its overall pitch structure can be raised by removing material from the ends of the bar.
Once this slightly sharp bar is created, the secondary and tertiary tones can be lowered by removing material from specific locations of the bar.
Vibraphones are tuned to a standard of A = 442 Hz or A = 440 Hz, depending on the manufacturer or in some cases the customer's preference.
Like marimbas, professional vibraphones have bars of graduated width.
Lower bars are made from wider stock, and higher notes from narrower stock, to help balance volume and tone across the range of the instrument.
The bars are anodized, typically in silver or gold color, after fine-tuning and may have a smooth or brushed (matte) finish.
These are cosmetic features with a negligible effect on the sound.
Resonators are thin-walled tubes, typically made of aluminum, but any suitably strong material can be used.
They are open at one end and closed at the other.
Each bar is paired with a resonator whose diameter is slightly wider than the width of the bar and whose length to the closure is one-quarter of the wavelength of the fundamental frequency of the bar.
When the bar and resonator are properly in tune with each other, the vibrating air beneath the bar travels down the resonator and is reflected from the closure at the bottom, then returns to the top and is reflected back by the bar, over and over, creating a much stronger standing wave and increasing the amplitude of the fundamental frequency.
The resonators, besides raising the upper end of the vibraphone's dynamic range, also affect the overall tone of the vibraphone, since they amplify the fundamental, but not the upper partials.
Often times, vibraphones, and other mallet instruments, will include non-functional, decorative resonator tubes with no corresponding bar above to make the instrument look more full.
There is a trade-off between the amplifying effect of the resonators and the length of sustain of a ringing bar.
The energy in a ringing bar comes from the initial mallet strike, and that energy can either be used to make the bar ring louder initially, or not as loudly but for a longer period of time.
This is not an issue with marimbas and xylophones, where the natural sustain time of the wooden bars is short, but vibraphone bars can ring for many seconds after being struck, and this effect is highly desirable in many circumstances.
Therefore, the resonators in a vibraphone are usually tuned slightly off-pitch to create a balance between loudness and sustain.
A unique feature of vibraphone resonators is a shaft of rotating discs, commonly called fans, across the top.
When the fans are open, the resonators have full function.
When the fans are closed, the resonators are partially occluded, reducing the resonance of the fundamental pitch.
A drive belt connects the shafts to an electric motor beneath the playing surface and rotates the fans.
This rotation of the fans creates a vibrato effect along with some volume changes creating a tremolo effect.
In 1970, Deagan introduced a model "Electravibe", which dispensed with resonator tubes entirely and took a signal directly from the bars, adding a tremolo in a preamplifier.
This sought to improve the portability of the instrument and solve the problem inherent in all tuned mallet instruments; miking the bars evenly.
For the first few years of production, the original Leedy Vibraphone did not include a mechanism for damping, or stopping, the sustaining tones.
In 1927, the J.C. Deagan company introduced a pedal mechanism that has not changed substantially since.
A rigid bar beneath the center of the instrument is pressed upward by an adjustable spring and engages a long felt pad against the sharps and the naturals.
A foot pedal lowers the bar and allows notes to ring freely; releasing the pedal engages the damper and stops any vibrating notes.
One common flaw of this damping mechanism is that the bar is often supported at one point in the middle, causing it to damp the instrument unevenly in the upper and lower registers.
To combat this, some manufacturers have made silicone- or liquid-filled damper pads whose fluid shape can conform evenly around the bars.
Vibraphones usually have an electric motor and pulley assembly mounted on one side or the other to drive the disks in the resonators.
In those cases having the motor off is the norm and is not used unless specifically called for.
The early vibraphones used motors that were intended to power record-player turntables and had limited or no speed-adjustment capabilities.
Whatever speed adjustments were possible were made by moving the drive belt among a small number of pulleys (usually three) of varying diameters.
Later, variable-speed AC motors became available at reasonable prices.
These motors allow the adjustment of the rotating speed by a potentiometer mounted on a control panel near the motor.
They typically support rotation rates in the range 1–12 Hz.
These motors remained the preferred solution until the 1990s and are still in use by some manufacturers.
During the 1990s, some manufacturers began using computer-controlled stepping motors.
These motors are capable of slower rotating speeds, approaching 0 Hz.
The computer control also allows operations that are not possible with an analog motor, such as the ability to synchronize the rotation of the two resonator sets and stop the rotation at a desired state (e.g. all open, all closed, all half-open, etc).
The vibraphone frame offers a number of challenges to designers.
It must be sturdy enough to endure the torsional forces created by the damper/spring/pedal assembly and the stresses of repeated transport and playing, while still being light enough for easy transport.
Considering the weight of the bars alone, this does not leave much margin for the frame.
The bars must also be securely attached to the frame, but not rigidly.
Each bar must have some independent flex for it to ring.
The motor is attached to the frame at one end.
The hinges for the damper bar are attached at each end, and the spring assembly and the pedal are usually aligned in the middle.
Two banks of resonator tubes are laid into grooves in the frame so that they straddle the damper bar.
The resonators are not firmly fastened to the frame.
The ends of the shafts that gang the disks are connected to the drive of the motor through a drive belt similar to an O-ring.
A bed for the bars is made by laying four wooden rails onto pins on the end blocks.
Like the resonators, these rails do not firmly attach to the frame.
Each rail has a series of pins with rubber spacers that support the bars.
The bars are arranged into two groups, and a soft cord passes through the nodal holes in the bars of each group.
These bars lay between the support pins, with the cord hooking the pins.
On the outside rails, the pins have U-shaped hooks, and the cord rests in the bend.
the inside pins have a hook that grasps the cord and holds the bars in place against the force of the damper pad.
The two ends of the cord attach with a spring at one end to provide tension and flex.
Vibraphone mallets usually consist of a rubber ball core wrapped in yarn or cord and attached to a narrow dowel, most commonly made of rattan or birch and sometimes of fiberglass or nylon.
Mallets suitable for the vibraphone are also generally suitable for the marimba.
The mallets can have a great effect on the tonal characteristics of the sound produced, ranging from a bright metallic clang to a mellow ring with no obvious initial attack.
Consequently, a wide array of mallets is available, offering variations in hardness, head size, weight, shaft length, and flexibility.
Classical players must carry a wide range of mallet types to accommodate the changing demands of composers who are looking for particular sounds.
Jazz players, on the other hand, often make use of multi-purpose mallets to allow for improvisation.
Classical works with the vibraphone
Although the vibraphone has been predominantly used for jazz music, many classical pieces have been composed using the instrument, either as featured soloist or with a prominent part.
Notable works include:
- Alban Berg: Lulu (1935)
- Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1961)
- Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3 (1939)
- Benjamin Britten: Spring Symphony (1948–1949), The Prince of the Pagodas (1957), and Death in Venice (1973)
- Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14 (1969), and Symphony No. 15 (1971)
- Jean Barraqué: Concerto for vibraphone, clarinet, and six instrumental groups (1962–68)
- Pierre Boulez: Le marteau sans maître for contralto and six instrumentalists, with prominent part for vibraphone (1955), "...explosante-fixe...", version for vibraphone and electronics (1986)
- Franco Donatoni: Omar (1985)
- Morton Feldman: For Stefan Wolpe for chorus and two vibraphones (1986)
- Siegfried Fink: Concerto for vibraphone and orchestra (1958–59)
- Ferde Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite (1931)
- Morton Gould: Harvest, for vibraphone, harp, and strings (1945)
- Alan Hovhaness: The Flowering Peach, incidental music to the play by Clifford Odets, for clarinet, alto saxophone, timpani, tam-tam, vibraphone, glockenspiel, harp, and celesta, Op. 125 (1954); Spirit Cat, suite for soprano, vibraphone, and marimba, Op. 253 (1971)
- Philippe Manoury: Solo de vibraphone (1986)
- Darius Milhaud: Concerto for marimba, vibraphone, and orchestra, Op. 278 (1947)
- Luigi Morleo: Diritti: NO LIMIT Concerto for Vibraphone and String Orchestra (2013)
- Fabian Müller: Concerto for Vibraphone and Orchestra (2014)
- William P. Perry: Jamestown Concerto (2008)
- Lior Navok: V5—for vibraphone and string quartet (1994)
- Steve Reich: Sextet, for four percussionists and two keyboardists
- Emmanuel Séjourné: Concerto for vibraphone and orchestra; Concerto for vibraphone and piano (1999)
- Stuart Saunders Smith: Links series, 11 works (1975–1994)
- Pascal Schumacher: Windfall Concerto for vibraphone and orchestra (2016)
- Gil Shohat: The Child Dreams (2010), Tyre and Jerusalem (2003)
- Karlheinz Stockhausen: Refrain, for piano, vibraphone, and celesta (1959); Strahlen for vibraphone (optionally with glockenspiel) and ten-channel electronic music (2002); Vibra-Elufa for vibraphone (2003)
- Igor Stravinsky: Requiem Canticles (1966)
- Tomáš Svoboda: Morning Prayer, for four percussionists, Op. 101 (1981); Baroque Trio, for vibraphone, electric guitar, and piano, Op. 109 (1982)
- Ralph Vaughan Williams Sinfonia antartica (Symphony No. 7) and Symphony No. 8
- Tommy Vig: Concerto for clarinet, vibraharp, and orchestra; Concerto for vibraharp and orchestra
- William Walton: Symphony No. 2
- Mieczysław Weinberg: The Passenger
Use in film scores
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibraphone.