6+

Small Lithophone

Eight limestone blocks layout as a keyboard on a metal stand, with two blue plastic and metal mallets attached. Behind the keyboard is sheet music for 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' with the whole exhibit sitting on a granite and glassed area, with gardens in the background.

Percussion instruments generate vibration and sound when they are struck with a mallet.

How it works

Gently tap each limestone bar to hear a different pitched sound and play your tunes of choice.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Why is this called a lithophone instead of a xylophone?
  • Which bars generate the deepest-pitched notes and the highest-pitched notes?

Background

This Lithophone is a type of xylophone. Xylophones are percussion instruments that you strike or hit like a drum: ‘xylo-’ means wooden; ‘litho-’ means stone and ‘-phone’ means sound. So, a lithophone is a stone percussion instrument!

When the longer Lithophone bars are struck, they produce slower vibrations and deeper or lower pitched sounds. The shorter Lithophone bars produce faster vibrations that can be heard as higher pitched sounds. Each bar's length must be shaped to generate a particular musical note on the scale.

Finding the science in your world

If you have played xylophones made from wood, metal or stone, you may have noticed that they sound different, or they have a different 'timbre'. When you hit a xylophone, it vibrates and produces sound. Different materials vibrate in different ways, so each xylophone’s timbre sounds ‘warm’, ‘tinny’, ‘clunky’ or ‘clear’.