Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


A percussion instrument consisting of a mounted row of wooden bars that are graduated in length to sound a chromatic scale, played with two small mallets.

xy′lo·phon′ist n.
Word History: Alphabet books for children frequently feature the word xylophone because it is one of the few words beginning with x that a child (or most adults, for that matter) would know. The majority of English words beginning with x, including many obscure scientific terms, go back to one of five Greek words: xanthos, "yellow," xenos, "stranger," xēros, "dry," xiphos, "sword," or xulon, "wood." The initial x, representing the Greek letter xi, is now pronounced (z) in English even though it was pronounced (ks) by the Greeks. (It seems that at first, the initial x in English words of Greek origin was pronounced as (gz), like the x in exist, and at some point, (gz) was simplified to the (z) heard today.) In the case of xylophone, xylo- is derived from Greek xulon and -phone represents Greek phōnē, "voice, sound," the same element found in words such as telephone, microphone, and megaphone. Different forms of the xylophone have long been important instruments in many musical traditions, such as those of Africa and Southeast Asia, but in Europe, xylophones remained a minor instrument used mostly in the folk music of Eastern Europe. In the Renaissance depictions of the Dance of Death, however, skeletons are often shown merrily playing on xylophonelike instruments. These instruments were called by various names in Europe over the centuries, but the English term xylophone (along with its relatives in other European languages like French xylophone and German Xylophon) appears to be a creation of the 1800s. In the 1830s, the Russian Jewish xylophone virtuoso Michal Josef Gusikov (1806-1837) toured Europe and created a sensation in Paris and Vienna by playing on something that was introduced to the audience as a wood-and-straw instrument. Thereafter, xylophonelike instruments steadily gained in popularity in Western Europe. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known attestation of our modern name for the instrument is found in the following description from the April 7, 1866, edition of Athenaeum, a British literary magazine: "A prodigy ... who does wonderful things with little drumsticks on a machine of wooden keys, called the 'xylophone.'" Soon after, in 1874, the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously included a part for the xylophone in his Danse Macabre, a musical depiction of the Dance of Death.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.xylophonist - someone who plays a xylophonexylophonist - someone who plays a xylophone  
percussionist - a musician who plays percussion instruments
Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
He was a good xylophonist a great asset as it brought wealth into the family.
And the funny-unfunny Latvian comic, the camp dancers, the lovably geeky laser harp guy, the xylophonist.
Bailey gives us a very affectionate treatment of the film and Allen's protagonist, the talent agent who represents a blind xylophonist, a one-legged tap dancer, and a one-armed juggler.
Comedy instrumentalist Al Wright, xylophonist Jack Williams and Walsall singer Beryl Briscoe will perform at the event at 1.
Phil concertgoers with long memories of the membership of the percussion section of the RLPO will not be surprised to learn that the xylophonist on this Naxos disc is Peter Donohoe.