2x4 Xylophone

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Introduction: 2x4 Xylophone

   I copied this from the children's museum that we take my daughter to.  It consists of 3 2x4x8' kiln dried (don't use pressure treated... bad for kids), about 15' of rope, some staples and a wooden dowel.  The total cost is under $10 and it can be made start to finish, including clean up, in about  an hour.  I made this for free from scraps I had on hand.
   I never took measurements of the museum xylophone and built this on memory and guesstimation, so please feel free to do so on yours as well.

Step 1: Measuring, Cutting and Sanding

I made 9 "notes" on this xylophone, so all of my measurements will be based on that.  The "notes" were cut starting at 36" and the next one was 2" shorter and so on (36, 34, 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, and 20 inches). After all of these pieces were cut I ran the belt sander over each piece smoothing them out and rounding over the edges.

I cut the 2x4x8' as follows
-- 36", 34" and 26"
--30", 24", 22" and 20"
--28" and 32"

the first 2 equal 96" exact, so when cutting split the line to get it close... you could break them up differently to get better measurements, but come on.

Step 2: Assembly

   Next, I measured and marked the center of each "note".  I then started at the 20" piece and measured out 2" from center making a mark for where the rope will be stapled.  For the 22" I measured 3" from center, and continued adding 1" from center to the next larger piece. 
   Find the middle of the rope and leave about 1' of slack to tie the xylophone off.  Start stapling the rope at the marks on the first "note" and leave 1 1/2" of space between notes as you staple.  (why 1 1/2"?  because that's what the scrap wood is).  Making certain the centers are kept in line.  Don't cut the ends at the long side, as they will be used for tying up the xylophone too.

Step 3: Tie It Up and Play

  Now you just have to find somewhere to hang the xylophone, we have ours on the farmer's porch so that we can play even when it rains.  This winter I'll install hooks in the playroom.
  When you hang it, the angle and "droopiness" of the xylophone will have an impact on sound so play around with it to get the best sound from yours.  I sanded down the dowels and used them as mallets, but you can use whatever is handy.  Have fun, my daughter loves hers.

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    28 Discussions

    I would like something like that

    i have a giant wooden xylophone at school - 8 notes, 10cm wide and approx 50cm long. am looking for a pair (or two) of budget rubber beaters 
    with nice big heads and sturdy sticks. the old ones that are lost had a head of approx 5cm but may have been made by the chap who made the
    instrument.

    would ship to b966eh uk


    joe george joe@joegeorgemusic.co.uk

    i have a giant wooden xylophone at school - 8 notes, 10cm wide and approx 50cm long. am looking for a pair (or two) of budget rubber beaters

     with nice big heads and sturdy sticks. the old ones that are lost had a head of approx 5cm but may have been made by the chap who made the 
    instrument.

    would ship to b966eh uk


    joe george joe@joegeorgemusic.co.uk

    Is it just me, or in the 2nd step, first picture, you have a piece of irregular jigsaw puzzle? :)

    Cool idea. For optimal resonance, the bars should be supported at 22.5% of the length from the ends. This is the first node, where vibration does not occur. You'll get much cleaner, louder notes of them that way :)

    The bars can be made to ring longer and lower by removing material from the bottom center of the bar (see a real marimba bar from below). The shape of the carve-out is concave. Generally, removing material from this center area drops the pitch. To raise the pitch, remove wood (mass) from the ends.

    Resonators made of boxes, or card board tubes that are sealed at the bottom end do an impressive job of amplifying the vibrations.

    We're in the middle of constructing our xylophone for our class right now. We have almost all of the pieces cut out so now I'm wondering if you have any suggestions on what type of string/twine to use. Does one work better than others? Also, have you had trouble with the boards falling off the string? I'm worried about the kids pulling on the boards and having the come loose. Thanks for such a wonderful project idea!

    @truthhunter - thanks! your comments were MUCH appreciated!

    The school where i work has just spent hundereds on one of these! I will see if they can send it back and I can build one instead!
    Great Idea!

    Great Project

    A couple of suggestions:

    If you place the ropes a the 2/9'ths position from the ends of keys, it should
    ring slightly better. This is where the natural anti-node dead spot is. For example
    if the board is 20" put the rope 4 7/16" from each end.( 20" X 2 ) divide by 9 )

    It is really a good idea to tune these. It gets the children used to hearing
    correct notes. Fortunately its not too difficult to do. You don't have to have
    perfect pitch or be a musician.

    All you need is a microphone, freeware tuning software(Tartini from sourceforge looks
    good), your computer of course,
    and something to remove some wood. A disk sander works pretty well, but you
    could use a chisel or plane too. To lower the note remove wood from the back of the middle
    between the anti-nodes. To raise the note you have to shorten it a little.
    Here is a site that list the frequencies: http://www.phy.mtu.edu/~suits/notefreqs.html

    I have no idea where this xylophone would land on the scale. Ideal would starting middle
    C where many melodies are located. Start with the low note of the high note and tune it to
    the closest note. Then tune the others
    in relation to it.

    I really don't want to scare anyone away from the project, just add some suggestions if
    you want to take it to the next level. If its not fun don't. Some peoples's fun level ais different


    Uhh, I guess I exceeded a"couple of suggestions" :-)

    1 reply

    Excellent project! I’m getting ready to build it and hang it near the fire pit area so any one can jump in and play. Really like the added depth for a more musical instrument not only great for younger kids but big kids like me to. Anyone have any book suggestions or other site instructables on more outdoor instruments similar to this? Marimbas, Tonque Drums, PVC drums, Metallophone, Amadindasect…

    I've seen wooden xylophones tuned by carving out the center, they explain it here
    http://www.tidewater.net/~xylojim/xylocons.html

    1 reply

    i play a wooden xylophone (african marimba) in a band and when tuned right with the carving out of the center it sound bueatiful.

    We made one of these. Easy to do & sound great. Daughter loves it. We started with 12" as the smallest board.

    1 reply

    I love this - I'll bet it sounds super cool.  What type of wood did you use and where did you get it?

    1 reply

    do you think staining or painting would affect the sound in a bad way?