I recently got a glockenspiel and it has instantly become a favorite instrument of mine! A glockenspiel is a small metallic xylophone with tuned keys. It has a high-pitched, percussive sound. The word Glock means "bells" and Spiel means "to play". Together, glockenspiel means "a play of bells". I ordered mine + mallets from Rob Zollman, who was excellent to work with. So why did I get one?
Reason Number One: Anna Meredith Plays One!
I hadn't heard of Anna Meredith before watching this Tiny Desk concert video, but I really liked her music and enjoyed seeing her play a little metallophone/xylophone during some of her compositions. That was the inspiration right there. I actually didn't know what a glockenspiel was until watching that video and had to look it up online to learn more. A day later I had ordered one!
Reason Number Two: It's a Legit Mallet Percussion Instrument
The primary mallet percussion instruments are vibraphone, marimba, xylophone and glockenspiel. I've been wanting a mallet percussion instrument for some time now and glockenspiel allows me to have one. I had also considered the Pearl malletSTATION or the MalletKAT but those are more modern, technology-based mallet percussion instruments. The glockenspiel is a good old traditional acoustic instrument. I also like how mallet instruments are designed like piano keyboards with the white keys on the first row and the black keys above them, but you strike the keys with mallets.
Reason Number Three: It's Inexpensive
I've known about vibraphones and marimbas for a while, but I also knew that even halfway decent ones had a hefty price tag. I wasn't going to get one of those any time soon. However for about $150 you can get a pretty good glockenspiel and some really good mallets, and be all set. So why not?
Reason Number Four: It's Compact
Even if I could afford a vibraphone, I wouldn't have room for it. My house is pretty small and because I like to have my instruments handy, the amount of space an instrument would take up is definitely a factor. The glockenspiel I got is 32 keys, which is plenty to play any melody I want, but still small enough to fit on top of a bookshelf in the living room.
Reason Number Five: It's Low Maintenance
One of the things I find distracting about a stringed instrument is having to tune it. I just want to play an instrument that's already in tune and doesn't need to be fiddled around with. I could be naive about this, but I began playing the glockenspiel right out of the box and haven't made any adjustments to it yet. I like how it's always just ready to be played. If I'm walking by it I can stop and spend a minute playing a tune before moving on. Very cool. Perfect for super-econo practice sessions.
Reason Number Six: The Bell-like Tone
Another word for a glockenspiel is "bells". Some people might not like the high-pitched tone of a glockenspiel but I do. The sound reminds me of the bells used during a yoga or meditation class. Meditation bells are said to have a cleansing sound and vibration. The purity and clarity of the glockenspiel's sound may have similar effects, and at the very least the bell-like tone is a reminder to return to a state of mindfulness in all walks of life, not just in music.
The glockenspiel is also considered a children's instrument. Children, by their very nature, are beginners, and so again there could arguably be a Zen connection to the glockenspiel via "beginner's mind". Beginner's mind refers to dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about a subject, and seeing things with an open mind and fresh eyes, just as a beginner would. I started playing the glockenspiel as a 44 year old beginner so I hope to retain that beginner's mind for as long as I play it.
Over the last year I've written about 57 tunes. Most of these were written on tenor banjo but not necessarily for tenor banjo or any one specific instrument. Quite often I randomly select five of these tunes using a card-turning selection process and after playing the five on my banjo I usually select one of them to try out on the glockenspiel. Every single tune so far has been just as fun to play on the glockenspiel as it is on the banjo! This gets the music out from under the fingers and off of any one particular instrument and into the brain.
Here's a a new tune I recorded this morning on the glockenspiel: