The marimba is played in many different countries, from Zambia and Mozambique in Africa, to the Central American states of Guatemala and Honduras. All marimbas have keys that are hit with mallets and resonators that amplify the sound of the keys. But from there, the variations are infinite. As seen in the video segment, Jingchen Sun plays a five-octave marimba (the piano, another percussion instrument, has 11 octaves), but marimbas come in both larger and smaller sizes.
Music for the marimba is also very diverse, from classical pieces like the one played by Jingchen to folk, hip hop, electronic, marching band, and jazz tunes. The classical marimba has keys made of special hardwoods (such as rosewood) and resonators that are metal or wood. But marimbas can be made of many different materials depending on what is locally available. The keys might be wood, metal, or even plastic. The resonators might be plastic or wooden tubes, bottles, or gourds.
In this video segment, Jingchen plays "Ultimatum I" by Nebojsa Joan Zivkovic (born in Germany in 1962). Zivkovic is a prolific composer for percussion and an accomplished marimba player. He is known for innovative instrumentation, and the titles of some of his works reflect his adventurous spirit: "The Castle of the Mad King," "Generally Spoken It Is Nothing But Rhythm," and "Tales from the Center of the Earth."
To read more about Jingchen's life and to hear her perform a piece by Japanese composer and marimbist Keiko Abe on From the Top's radio program, check out From the Top.
To learn about vibraphonist and composer Stefon Harris, 30, a rising star of the jazz world, and to hear his music, check out NPR's JazzSet.
To see what happens when you combine a marimba, a computer, some tennis balls, and a few teenagers, check out "Ping Balls + Robot + You = Music" on the NPR show The Bryant Park Project.