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Matt Albano

Mrs. Wolcott
April 6, 2015
Literature Review Draft
The marimba is an idiophone because after being struck by a mallet it vibrates to produce
sound; the only true difference between a modern marimba and xylophone is that a marimba
features lower, bigger and warmer sounding bars while the xylophone has smaller and brighter
sounding bars. The general makeup of any modern marimba are the wooden keys (bars) that are
formatted the same way as a piano (naturals are on the bottom manual and accidentals on the top
manual), the cylindrical metal tube resonators that help amplify and project the sound , and the
adjustable height frame that holds everything in place.
Rosewood or the scientific term Dalbergia stevensonii has been a treasured wood for
centuries because of its ability to create a warm and resonant tone used in keyboard percussion
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) categorizes their
endangered species into three categories: appendix I, II, and III. The appendix I category is for
species that are about to become extinct while appendix III is the category that contains species
on their way to extinction.
In the effort to taking care of a rose wood instrument there were articles that suggested
alternative woods such as Padouk or the synthetic Kelon bars but the issue with these alternatives
is that they don’t sound as warm and resonant as the rosewood bars, however percussionists have
not been assertive with finding more alternative woods.

It is also important to understand how percussionists think when they practice and
perform on the instrument. Two major considerations for percussionists when they perform a
piece are sound and touch.
Touch is a term that percussionists use to describe the velocity and hardness that a mallet
should be struck to hit the bar and will help achieve the dynamic volumes required for a piece.
Touch is gained over time with experimentation and practice. Some percussionists abuse the
instrument by having a harsh touch that make the marimba “bark” or crack a bar while the rest
understand the limitations of the rosewood instruments. Depending on the material of the bar I
can use different touches to achieve certain sounds, for example I can wail on a synthetic
marimba but I would never consider using the same touch on a tone wood marimba. There are
valid arguments that want tone wood instruments to be replaced by mainly synthetic bars in
marching activities such as drum corps, indoor percussion and marching band because of the
type of touch, repetition and environmental conditions that are enforced in the activity.
The percussion community has been informed by professors and marimba manufacturers
through blogs and articles about the rosewood epidemic but few have taken action in finding
solutions to this situation. It is important that percussionists understand that we are just as much
of the problem with no finite solution.

Topics and Synthesis
Rosewood is an endangered species because it is illegally logged and highly manufactured:
A major reasoning behind rosewood being nearly extinct is because it has been illegally
logged for years for activities that wasted most of the rosewood trees being chopped down while
percussionists use at least 80% of the rosewood trees to make the instruments. In 2009 CITIES

took action after rosewood was moved from an appendix III species to and appendix II on the
illegal logging practices by patrolling and monitoring the areas where rosewood thrive
(Carmenates 2009; CITIES 2009; Moyer 2013; Samuels 2013; SoundWood 2002; United
Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre 2005).
Ways we can conserve rosewood or provide proper care to our own rosewood instruments:
With the knowledge of the near extinction of rosewood it is imperative that people such
as percussionists who depend on rosewood know how to take actions to preserve and conserve
One suggestion in conserving rosewood is to switch rosewood marimbas to synthetic
ones or to limit the amount of rosewood instruments used in the marching activity such as Drum
Corps International, Indoor percussion and marching band. The reasoning behind this is because
marching practices are primarily outside in extreme temperatures for an extensive amount of
time and the touch required for marching band is a lot harsher compared to a performance in a
concert hall (Moyer 2013).
When practicing on the marimba never use big army gestures nor place your hands on the
bars. When your hands touch the marimba bar the oils get absorbed into the wood that kill the
resonance and deaden the bar; some marimba companies put a protective coating on their bars
but the coat will eventually wear off. The army gestures are not only bad for the bars but it is bad
technique for percussionists that can lead to bodily harm ( Moyer 2013; "Percussion Source
Blog." 2014; SoundWood 2002).
When done practicing on the marimba always keep it covered, in a room temperature
area and make sure that people aren’t putting books or objects on top of the bars. Keeping a
cover on the instrument can protect the instrument from sun damage and exposure to dust.

Objects should never be placed on marimbas because they can damage the frame (Carmenates
2009; CITIES 2009; Moyer 2013; Samuels 2013; Jusitson 2012; "Percussion Source Blog."
2014; SoundWood 2002).

Why is Rosewood the first choice tone wood for percussion instruments?:
Percussionists have agreed that rosewood is the epitome of a tone wood because of its
sound quality and durability. Percussionists give a multitude of considerations when choosing
the materials needed to make the piece sound amazing. Two main considerations when choosing
materials are the types of sounds the material produces and the type of touch I am allowed to
have when performing on the material. Rosewood has a very distinct characteristic of sound that
meets the requirements for marimba repertoire: it’s warm, resonate and dark. There are few to
none other tone woods that compare to the type of sound that rosewood creates no touch. Touch
can be described as the amount of forced needed to achieve a certain type of sound; louder
dynamics require a harsher touch while softer dynamics call for a more delicate touch.
Rosewood is unique because it is a hard wood and tone wood so it takes a lot of time and energy
to break a rosewood bar making it the most desirable wood on the market. (DANIHELOVÁ
2015; "Percussion Source Blog." 2014; Wheeler 1992)

What is a marimba and its history?:
Usually whenever I have discussions with someone who has never heard of a marimba I
reference it to a xylophone on steroids. The marimba is an idiophone because after being struck
by a mallet it vibrates to produce sound; the only true difference between a modern marimba and
xylophone is that a marimba features lower, bigger and warmer sounding bars while the

xylophone has smaller and brighter sounding bars. The general makeup of any modern marimba
are the wooden keys (bars) that are formatted the same way as a piano (naturals are on the
bottom manual and accidentals on the top manual), the cylindrical metal tube resonators that help
amplify and project the sound , and the adjustable height frame that holds everything in place.
This overall design for the modern North American marimba took centuries to modify
originating from Guatemala where the bars are exclusively rosewood and only one manual
instead of two, the resonator gourds and the frame that only sits a foot above the ground. Some
natives of Guatemala argue that our modern marimba is not actually a marimba because we use
metal frames and resonators, which is technically true but the key characteristics such as the
wooden bars and resonators still allow the North American model to be considered a marimba
(Chenoweth 1964; Eyler 2003). The man and musician responsible for the modern day marimbas
can be credited to John C. Deagan, originally a clarinet player who also excelled in mathematics,
astronomy, Egyptology and acoustic science. It all started when Deagan was experimenting with
tuning metal bars which eventually became to be used in orchestral music as the bell set; soon
after tuning metal bars he tried tuning rosewood bars to create the xylophone and eventually the
modern day marimba. These instruments became a huge commodity in orchestral music because
it was a new and beautiful timbre that no one has heard before so Deagan sought out the
opportunity to manufacture and sell his instruments (Wood 2004; Trommer 1996).

What alternative woods are there for keyboard instruments?:
Percussionists are always trying to find ways to solve the rosewood epidemic. Some
solutions include limiting the access to the rosewood, tips on how to preserve and care for
rosewood instruments and finding alternative woods. Realistically the most efficient direction is

to find alternative materials for marimba keys since the supply of rosewood is so limited. As
percussionists we have not been aggressive in looking for alternative tone woods but we have
found the Padouk, Black Locust, and synthetic Kelon bars are our best shot in alternative
materials for replacing rosewood (Adams 2015; DANIHELOVÁ 2015; Hansell 1981).
Most of the popular marimba manufacturing companies such as Adams give their
customers options in choosing a rosewood, padouk or synthetic bar. Adams’ claims about the
alternative woods being a great purchase consideration can be backed up from William Hansell’s
trial experiments that analyze the sound of synthetic bars to other tone wood bars (Adams 2015;
Hansell 1981).

What are alternative woods?:
In the research that I’ve done the sources have all said that there are very few tone woods
that have been discovered because there haven’t been many efforts to find a new one. This is
most likely due to the fact that people don’t want to move away from rosewood. Percussionists
have ventured as far as using synthetic wood to replace rosewood because it is the most durable
material that can produce the correct pitches however it produces a more bright artificial tone
rather than the warm resonate tone that rosewood produces. Another issue with using synthetic
bars is that it does not respond to touch as well as rosewood meaning that achieving the right
types of dynamics can be very difficult.

Project Proposal:
Percussionists have not really ventured into exploring alternative tone woods because we
cherish the sound of rosewood and don’t have much funding dedicated to exploring other woods.
We have compared tone woods to synthetic bars but only the alternatives to the alternatives
rather than the alternatives to rosewood which is the prime example of what a marimba should
sound like and feel like.
I believe the best way to truly understand the differences between rosewood, alternative
tone woods and synthetic bars by collecting data through experiments. The experiment could be
taken place in a recording studio or a concert hall, somewhere that would be applicable to a
common performance setting. In the experiment we would require all 5 octave marimbas
featuring a specific tone wood or synthetic bar. Each marimba would be struck at the four
different ranges (Bass, Tenor, Alto Soprano) and would also be struck by the same percussionist
with different velocities with different mallets to accommodate the common articulation of the
range, so a Bass note would be struck with a softer mallet and a soprano note would be struck
with a harder mallet. Each trial strike’s frequency would be recorded and written down on a chart
and bar graph to understand visually how the material woods compare to one another.
Another part to this experiment would be a blind fold test where at least three highly
skilled percussionists sat and listened to the same process as the last experiment and rated each
material wood on a scale of 1 to 10. The reasoning behind this experiment is to test our sense of
listening since creating sounds is what our career is structured on. It will be imperative to
compare the data between the two experiments to see if the overall data follow the same patterns
which can inform us the closest material to rosewood or if rosewood is truly the most desirable
material for the marimba.

Marimba Trials
Wood F3
Type: Bass














F(number)- depicts the specific pitch being struck on the marimba. The lower the number
the lower the range the higher the number the higher the range.
Bass, Alto, Tenor, Soprano- another way to depict the type of range on a more general
p, mf, f- depict the type of volume and velocity that the note will be struck. p= piano or
soft, mf= mezzo forte or medium volume, f= forte or loud.
Hertz (Hz)- is what is used to represent the amount of frequency produced and will be
recorded in the chart as a way to compare the wood types.

Works Cited
Adams. Adams Artist Marimba. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. “Inclusion
of Honduras Rosewood in Appendix II.” Available from;
Internet; accessed 10 Oct 2009.
Chenoweth, Vida. The Marimbas of Guatemala. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1964.
DANIHELOVÁ, A., et al. "Modified Wood Of Black Locust -- Alternative To Honduran
Rosewood In The Production Of Xylophones." Acta Physica Polonica, A 127.1 (2015):
106-109. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Eyler, David P. “Early Development of the Xylophone in Western Music.” Percussive Notes 41,
no. 6 (2003): 42-44.
Hansell, William, and Greg Pugh. "Natural vs. Synthetic An Evaluation of Xylophone Bars." Ed.
Leigh H. Stevens. Percussive Notes 20.1 (1981): 60-63. Print.
Jusitson, Brian. "Choosing Keyboard Mallets for Percussion Ensemble Repertoire." Innovative
Percussion (2012): n. pag. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Moyer, James. "The Rosewood Forest: chasing an answer." School Band and Orchestra 2013:
36. General OneFile. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
"Percussion Source Blog." Web log post. Purchasing A Marimba? Percussion Source, 20 Sept.
2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.

Samuels, Ron. "Rosewood in Central America." N.p., 4 Nov. 2013.
Web. 3 Mar. 2015.
SoundWood. “Sustainable Forest Management and FSC Principles and Criteria.” Lecture
presented at SoundWood Sustainable Tone-wood Sourcing Conference, San Francisco,
California, May 16-17, 2002. Available at http://www.globaltrees.
org/downloads/San_Fran_sourcing_conf_may2002. pdf; Internet; accessed 28 Sept 2009.
Trommer, Hal. “John Calhoun Deagan.” Percussive Notes 34, no. 2 (1996): 84-85.
United Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. “Timber
Tree Species in International Trade: Strategies for Sustainable Use – Mesoamerica 2005
Workshop Report Annex 3: Presentations and Reports.” Available from workshops/reports/ MA2005/Annex%203.pdf.
Internet; accessed 26 August 2009.
Wheeler, Mike. “J.C. Deagan Percussion Instruments.” Percussive Notes 31, no. 2 (1992): 60-64.
Wood, Shannon. “A Look Back, Deagan History Part 1.” Malletshop Quarterly, January (2004):