wikiHow to Make a Xylophone

The xylophone is a wonderful instrument. It has a rich history, dating from the 9th century and being developed independently in both Africa and Asia. It enjoys widespread use in everything from traditional African tribal music to an American elementary school classroom, where it is used to teach introductory music principles to children. While building a full-scale modern concert xylophone would represent a massive undertaking, it is relatively quick and easy to make a one-octave, diatonic xylophone.


  1. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 1
    Assemble the wood for the keys. A one-octave xylophone will have 8 keys, with the root note of the scale appearing both at the lower and upper ends of the register. The keys should be roughly 2 inches (5 cm) wide and 1 inch (2.5 cm) high. Dimension lumber is widely available at hardware stores in roughly these dimensions. Pine is an acceptable choice, although oak will yield a better tonal quality. Professional quality xylophones have keys made of rosewood or padauk, but these woods are harder to find.
  2. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 2
    Cut the keys roughly to size. A good approximation is to cut the lowest note to about 14 inches (35 cm) long and the highest note to about 10 inches (25 cm) long. The keys in between should gradually bridge the gap between these 2 lengths. With these lengths, the keys can be tuned easily to the C Major scale. The exact length of each key is not important, as you will be trimming them down during the tuning process.
  3. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 3
    Tune the keys. This is the most time-consuming step in the process. Lay each key out on a soft surface (such as a towel) so that it can resonate. Strike the key with a mallet and register the pitch on an electronic tuner. If the pitch is too low, you can raise it by shaving or filing off the edges of the key to make it shorter. If the pitch is too high, you can lower the pitch by carving out a curved gouge on the underside of the key. The gouge should be centered on the bar, and should generally be kept within the middle third of the bar. A rasp is the best tool for this, although a file or draw knife will also work. Continue checking the pitch throughout the tuning process.
  4. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 4
    Find the position of the nodes on each bar. The nodes are the parts of the bar which will not vibrate when the bar resonates, and are located about 2/9 of the length of the bar in on each side. To find their exact position, sprinkle salt on each key and strike it repeatedly with a mallet. The salt will dance around on the bar and gather on the nodes (because there is no vibration there). Mark this position with a pencil.
  5. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 5
    Drill 2 holes through each key where you marked the position of the nodes. These holes should be centered across the width of the bar. Make each hole slightly larger than the nail that will be used to secure the key to the frame, because the key must have room to move when it is struck, or it will not resonate very much.
  6. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 6
    Build the frame. You will need 4 pieces of wood for this, the dimensions of which do not matter much.
    • Lay the keys out from lowest to highest, with about 0.25 inches (6 mm) in between each key. The lowest-pitched key should be on the left, with the highest-pitched key on the right.
    • The total width of your xylophone should be about 18 inches (45 cm). Cut 2 pieces of your frame wood to this length, and then wrap them in a soft material (a towel or a worn-out piece of clothing will work). The fabric will ensure that the keys can still resonate and will not be knocking loudly against the frame during play.
  7. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 7
    Lay the keys across these 2 pieces of wood with the nodes of each key positioned directly over the frame. Drive nails through the pre-drilled holes in the keys and into the wood frame below.
    • Attach the 2 long pieces of wood to each other to keep the frame rigid. Take the other 2 pieces of wood reserved for the frame and screw, nail or glue them across the 2 long pieces to form a 4-sided frame.
  8. Image titled Make a Xylophone Step 8
    Sand the entire xylophone down. Go over the whole instrument with a piece of sandpaper to remove rough edges and improve the appearance.


  • When buying dimension lumber, remember that the nominal dimensions printed on the label will not be the true dimensions of the wood.
  • Note that this process will create a lot of wood shavings, so it is best done outdoors.

Things You'll Need

  • 1-inch x 2-inch (2.5 cm x 5 cm) wood, about 96 inches (244 cm) worth
  • Hand saw
  • Towels or other soft fabrics
  • Tuner
  • Xylophone mallet
  • Rasp or file
  • Salt
  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • 4 pieces of scrap wood
  • Nails
  • Sandpaper

Article Info

Categories: Musical Instruments