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Percussion instrumentVibraphone_header_cell_0_0_0
Other namesVibraphone_header_cell_0_1_0 Vibes, Vibraharp, VibracelesteVibraphone_cell_0_1_1
ClassificationVibraphone_header_cell_0_2_0 PercussionVibraphone_cell_0_2_1
Hornbostel–Sachs classificationVibraphone_header_cell_0_3_0 111.222

(Directly struck idiophone)Vibraphone_cell_0_3_1

Inventor(s)Vibraphone_header_cell_0_4_0 Henry SchluterVibraphone_cell_0_4_1
DevelopedVibraphone_header_cell_0_5_0 1927Vibraphone_cell_0_5_1
Playing rangeVibraphone_header_cell_0_6_0
Related instrumentsVibraphone_header_cell_0_7_0

The vibraphone is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family. Vibraphone_sentence_0

It consists of tuned metal bars and is usually played by holding two or four soft mallets and striking the bars. Vibraphone_sentence_1

A person who plays the vibraphone is called a vibraphonist, vibraharpist, or vibist. Vibraphone_sentence_2

The vibraphone resembles the marimbaphone and steel marimba, which it superseded. Vibraphone_sentence_3

One of the main differences between the vibraphone and other keyboard percussion instruments is that each bar suspends over a resonator tube with a motor-driven butterfly valve at the top. Vibraphone_sentence_4

The valves connect together on a common axle, which produces a tremolo or vibrato effect while the motor rotates the axle. Vibraphone_sentence_5

The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal similar to a piano. Vibraphone_sentence_6

With the pedal up, the bars produce a muted sound. Vibraphone_sentence_7

With the pedal down, the bars sustain for several seconds, or until muted with the pedal. Vibraphone_sentence_8

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. Vibraphone_sentence_9

It is the second most popular solo keyboard percussion instrument in classical music, after the marimba, and is part of the standard college-level percussion performance education. Vibraphone_sentence_10

It is a standard instrument in the modern percussion section for orchestras and concert bands. Vibraphone_sentence_11

History Vibraphone_section_0

Around 1916, instrument maker Herman Winterhoff, of the Leedy Manufacturing Company, began experimenting with "vox humana" effects on a three octave (F-F) steel marimba. Vibraphone_sentence_12

By attaching a motor, he could create vibrato effects, hence the name "vibraphone". Vibraphone_sentence_13

This instrument was marketed by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States starting in 1924. Vibraphone_sentence_14

However, this instrument differed significantly from the instrument now called the vibraphone. Vibraphone_sentence_15

The Leedy vibraphone did not have a pedal mechanism and had bars made of steel rather than aluminum. Vibraphone_sentence_16

The Leedy vibraphone achieved a degree of popularity after it was used in the novelty recordings of "Aloha 'Oe" and "Gypsy Love Song" in 1924 by vaudeville performer Louis Frank Chiha. Vibraphone_sentence_17

The popularity of Leedy's instrument led competitor J.C. Vibraphone_sentence_18 Deagan, Inc., 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. Vibraphone_sentence_19

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. Vibraphone_sentence_20

Schluter's design became more popular than the Leedy design and has become the template for all instruments now called "vibraphone". Vibraphone_sentence_21

However, when Deagan began marketing Schluter's instrument in 1928, they called it the "vibraharp". Vibraphone_sentence_22

Since Deagan trademarked the name, other manufacturers were forced to use the earlier name "vibraphone" for their instruments incorporating the newer design. Vibraphone_sentence_23

The use of the vibraphone in jazz, however, would be pioneered by Lionel Hampton, a jazz drummer from California. Vibraphone_sentence_24

At one recording session with bandleader Louis Armstrong, Hampton was asked to play a vibraphone that had been left behind in the studio. Vibraphone_sentence_25

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. Vibraphone_sentence_26

The first classical composer to use the vibraphone was Alban Berg, who used it prominently in his opera Lulu in 1935. Vibraphone_sentence_27

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. Vibraphone_sentence_28

The initial purpose of the vibraphone was to add to the large arsenal of percussion sounds used by vaudeville orchestras for novelty effects. Vibraphone_sentence_29

This use was quickly overwhelmed in the 1930s by its development as a jazz instrument. Vibraphone_sentence_30

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. Vibraphone_sentence_31

Manufacturers Vibraphone_section_1

Further information: List of vibraphone manufacturers Vibraphone_sentence_32

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. Vibraphone_sentence_33

Deagan struck endorsement deals with many of the leading players, including Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson. Vibraphone_sentence_34

The Deagan company went out of business in the 1980s and its trademark and patents were purchased by Yamaha. Vibraphone_sentence_35

Yamaha continues to make percussion instruments based on the Deagan designs. Vibraphone_sentence_36

In 1948, the Musser Mallet Company was founded by Clair Omar Musser, who had been a designer at Deagan. Vibraphone_sentence_37

The Musser company continues to manufacture vibraphones as part of the Ludwig Drum Company and is considered by many to be the industry standard. Vibraphone_sentence_38

As of 2020, there are numerous manufacturers of the vibraphone that make vibraphones with ranges up to 4 octaves (C3–C7). Vibraphone_sentence_39

The list includes Adams, Bergerault, DeMorrow, Majestic, Malletech, Marimba One, Musser, Premier, and Yamaha. Vibraphone_sentence_40

Range Vibraphone_section_2

The standard modern instrument has a range of three octaves, from the F below middle C (F3 to F6 in scientific pitch notation). Vibraphone_sentence_41

Larger ​3 ⁄2- or 4-octave models from the C below middle C are also becoming more common (C3 to F6 or C7). Vibraphone_sentence_42

Unlike its cousin the glockenspiel, it is a non-transposing instrument, generally written at concert pitch. Vibraphone_sentence_43

However, composers occasionally (for example, Olivier Messiaen) write parts to sound an octave higher. Vibraphone_sentence_44

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. Vibraphone_sentence_45

Deagan also made a portable model that had a ​2 ⁄2-octave range and resonators made of cardboard (Model 30). Vibraphone_sentence_46

Construction Vibraphone_section_3

The major components of a vibraphone are the bars, resonators, damper mechanism, motor, and the frame. Vibraphone_sentence_47

Vibraphones are usually played with mallets. Vibraphone_sentence_48

Bars Vibraphone_section_4

Vibraphone bars are made from aluminum bar stock, cut into blanks of predetermined length. Vibraphone_sentence_49

Holes are drilled through the width of the bars, so they can be suspended by a cord, typically parachute cord. Vibraphone_sentence_50

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). Vibraphone_sentence_51

For a uniform bar, the nodal points are located 22.4% from each end of the bar. Vibraphone_sentence_52

Material is ground away from underside of the bars in an arch shape to lower the pitch. Vibraphone_sentence_53

This allows the lower-pitched bars to be a manageable length. Vibraphone_sentence_54

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. Vibraphone_sentence_55

These rectangular bars have three primary modes of vibration. Vibraphone_sentence_56

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. Vibraphone_sentence_57

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. Vibraphone_sentence_58

As a side effect, the arch causes the nodal points of the fundamental vibration to shift closer towards the ends of the bar. Vibraphone_sentence_59

After beveling or rounding the edges, fine-tuning adjustments are made. Vibraphone_sentence_60

If a bar is flat, its overall pitch structure can be raised by removing material from the ends of the bar. Vibraphone_sentence_61

Once this slightly sharp bar is created, the secondary and tertiary tones can be lowered by removing material from specific locations of the bar. Vibraphone_sentence_62

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. Vibraphone_sentence_63

Like marimbas, professional vibraphones have bars of graduated width. Vibraphone_sentence_64

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. Vibraphone_sentence_65

The bars are anodized, typically in silver or gold color, after fine-tuning and may have a smooth or brushed (matte) finish. Vibraphone_sentence_66

These are cosmetic features with a negligible effect on the sound. Vibraphone_sentence_67

Resonators Vibraphone_section_5

Resonators are thin-walled tubes, typically made of aluminum, but any suitably strong material can be used. Vibraphone_sentence_68

They are open at one end and closed at the other. Vibraphone_sentence_69

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. Vibraphone_sentence_70

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. Vibraphone_sentence_71

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. Vibraphone_sentence_72

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. Vibraphone_sentence_73

There is a trade-off between the amplifying effect of the resonators and the length of sustain of a ringing bar. Vibraphone_sentence_74

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. Vibraphone_sentence_75

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. Vibraphone_sentence_76

Therefore, the resonators in a vibraphone are usually tuned slightly off-pitch to create a balance between loudness and sustain. Vibraphone_sentence_77

A unique feature of vibraphone resonators is a shaft of rotating discs, commonly called fans, across the top. Vibraphone_sentence_78

When the fans are open, the resonators have full function. Vibraphone_sentence_79

When the fans are closed, the resonators are partially occluded, reducing the resonance of the fundamental pitch. Vibraphone_sentence_80

A drive belt connects the shafts to an electric motor beneath the playing surface and rotates the fans. Vibraphone_sentence_81

This rotation of the fans creates a vibrato effect along with some volume changes creating a tremolo effect. Vibraphone_sentence_82

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. Vibraphone_sentence_83

This sought to improve the portability of the instrument and solve the problem inherent in all tuned mallet instruments; miking the bars evenly. Vibraphone_sentence_84

Damper mechanism Vibraphone_section_6

For the first few years of production, the original Leedy Vibraphone did not include a mechanism for damping, or stopping, the sustaining tones. Vibraphone_sentence_85

In 1927, the J.C. Deagan company introduced a pedal mechanism that has not changed substantially since. Vibraphone_sentence_86

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. Vibraphone_sentence_87

A foot pedal lowers the bar and allows notes to ring freely; releasing the pedal engages the damper and stops any vibrating notes. Vibraphone_sentence_88

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. Vibraphone_sentence_89

To combat this, some manufacturers have made silicone- or liquid-filled damper pads whose fluid shape can conform evenly around the bars. Vibraphone_sentence_90

Motors Vibraphone_section_7

Vibraphones usually have an electric motor and pulley assembly mounted on one side or the other to drive the disks in the resonators. Vibraphone_sentence_91

Often, mainly in classical music or in non-jazz ensembles like a percussion ensemble or front ensemble, the vibraphone is played with the motor off and the disks not moving. Vibraphone_sentence_92

In those cases having the motor off is the norm and is not used unless specifically called for. Vibraphone_sentence_93

The early vibraphones used motors that were intended to power record-player turntables and had limited or no speed-adjustment capabilities. Vibraphone_sentence_94

Whatever speed adjustments were possible were made by moving the drive belt among a small number of pulleys (usually three) of varying diameters. Vibraphone_sentence_95

Later, variable-speed AC motors became available at reasonable prices. Vibraphone_sentence_96

These motors allow the adjustment of the rotating speed by a potentiometer mounted on a control panel near the motor. Vibraphone_sentence_97

They typically support rotation rates in the range 1–12 Hz. Vibraphone_sentence_98

These motors remained the preferred solution until the 1990s and are still in use by some manufacturers. Vibraphone_sentence_99

During the 1990s, some manufacturers began using computer-controlled stepping motors. Vibraphone_sentence_100

These motors are capable of slower rotating speeds, approaching 0 Hz. Vibraphone_sentence_101

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). Vibraphone_sentence_102

Frame Vibraphone_section_8

The vibraphone frame offers a number of challenges to designers. Vibraphone_sentence_103

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. Vibraphone_sentence_104

Considering the weight of the bars alone, this does not leave much margin for the frame. Vibraphone_sentence_105

The bars must also be securely attached to the frame, but not rigidly. Vibraphone_sentence_106

Each bar must have some independent flex for it to ring. Vibraphone_sentence_107

The motor is attached to the frame at one end. Vibraphone_sentence_108

The hinges for the damper bar are attached at each end, and the spring assembly and the pedal are usually aligned in the middle. Vibraphone_sentence_109

Two banks of resonator tubes are laid into grooves in the frame so that they straddle the damper bar. Vibraphone_sentence_110

The resonators are not firmly fastened to the frame. Vibraphone_sentence_111

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. Vibraphone_sentence_112

A bed for the bars is made by laying four wooden rails onto pins on the end blocks. Vibraphone_sentence_113

Like the resonators, these rails do not firmly attach to the frame. Vibraphone_sentence_114

Each rail has a series of pins with rubber spacers that support the bars. Vibraphone_sentence_115

The bars are arranged into two groups, and a soft cord passes through the nodal holes in the bars of each group. Vibraphone_sentence_116

These bars lay between the support pins, with the cord hooking the pins. Vibraphone_sentence_117

On the outside rails, the pins have U-shaped hooks, and the cord rests in the bend. Vibraphone_sentence_118

the inside pins have a hook that grasps the cord and holds the bars in place against the force of the damper pad. Vibraphone_sentence_119

The two ends of the cord attach with a spring at one end to provide tension and flex. Vibraphone_sentence_120

Mallets Vibraphone_section_9

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. Vibraphone_sentence_121

Mallets suitable for the vibraphone are also generally suitable for the marimba. Vibraphone_sentence_122

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. Vibraphone_sentence_123

Consequently, a wide array of mallets is available, offering variations in hardness, head size, weight, shaft length, and flexibility. Vibraphone_sentence_124

Classical players must carry a wide range of mallet types to accommodate the changing demands of composers who are looking for particular sounds. Vibraphone_sentence_125

Jazz players, on the other hand, often make use of multi-purpose mallets to allow for improvisation. Vibraphone_sentence_126

Technique Vibraphone_section_10

Classical works with the vibraphone Vibraphone_section_11

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. Vibraphone_sentence_127

Notable works include: Vibraphone_sentence_128


Use in film scores Vibraphone_section_12

Bernard Herrmann used the vibraphone extensively in many of his film and television scores, most notably in his scores for Fahrenheit 451 and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Vibraphone_sentence_129

See also Vibraphone_section_13


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