Musical Christmas Presents: What to Buy the Kids
The Annual Dilemma
Once again, it's time to start thinking about what to get the younger members of the family for Christmas. I find it's getting more and more difficult each year. They already have every electronic game, gadget and latest craze.
What can you buy them that won't be a five minute wonder, won't cost the earth, and will be an ongoing interest for them in the future? Does a present like that actually exist?
Everybody has certain gifts that stand out in their memory from childhood. For me, one such was a multi-coloured xylophone, a very basic and cheap musical instrument that ended up being one of my favourite toys. I loved the pretty tinkling noise it made, and despite my basic musical skills, it was easy to create a nice sound.
So thinking what a great present this would make, I did a bit of research. It seems that in fact my childhood toy was not a real xylophone because it had metal keys, not wooden ones like a true xylophone. Whilst I love the distinctive sound of a wooden xylophone, it was that pretty tinkling bell sound that made me nostalgic.
Distinctive sound of the vibraphone often used in jazz
Variations on a Theme
On investigating a little further, I came across a whole range of variations on this theme of striking keys with mallets. I discovered instruments I'd never heard of such as the marimba, the balafon, the vibraphone, the tubaphone, octachimes, bar chimes, bell lyres... and, of course, the wonderful glockenspiel. Now if you'll pardon the pun, that really struck a chord.
I remembered that instrument from music lessons at school. What sound could be more charming and appropriate at Christmas time than one that produced the sound of bells?
So that's it. It's turned out to be quite an easy decision in the end. It's going to be glockenspiels all round this year, but not the silly little toy versions. I'm buying them proper instruments that will last into the future. And if they get fed up with them, I expect I will be able to find a use for them myself!
A Wide Range
There are many instruments erroneously labelled xylophones, but a true xylophone is made of wood. The instrument is believed to have come from Africa, India or Indonesia.
The keys of a glockenspiel are arranged like a piano keyboard and are made of steel. True glockenspiels are smaller than xylophones with a higher pitch.
The Bell Lyre
This is a portable form of the glockenspiel and is used in marching bands.
The tubaphone is a softer sounding offspring of the glockenspiel and tends to be used in military bands. It has a keyboard with metal tubes instead of bars.
The vibraphone is sometimes called a vibaharp. It's similar in looks to the xylophone and the marimba, but instead of wooden bars or steel bars, it has aluminium bars. It has a slightly more resonating sound compared to the xylophone or the marimba because its motor-driven resonators produce a vibrato effect. It's often used in jazz music.
The balafon originated in West Africa. It has 18 to 21 keys which are made from rosewood and are suspended on a bamboo frame. Underneath are gourd resonators which make a continuous buzzing sound.
Like the xylophone, the keys or bars are usually made out of rosewood or padouk, or even various synthetic materials.