Another happy coincidence led me to my current fascination with constructing lithophones. I was tossing around some scrap pieces of granite countertop that I’d gotten for one of my Upright Furniture projects, and as one of the chunks landed, it rang as clear as a bell.
I’d been looking for stone suitable for building lithophones for a while, but never suspected I would find a source of such readily available and inexpensive material.
Litho is Greek for stone, and phone is sound, so a lithophone is a musical instrument made from stone. They are one of the most ancient instruments, and in China the sound of stone is as elemental as metal or wood. In Viet Nam a stone instrument called a “dan da” was found that is believed to be over 9,000 years old. Western civilization didn’t use stone for music until the 1840’s. There are links to some great sources of information about lithophones at the bottom of this page.
Here’s a video of my newest lithophone, built for the Children’s Garden at the Charlevoix Public Library, in Charlevoix, Michigan. This one octave diatonic instrument, made of granite and mounted on a powder coated steel base with stainless steel bolts, is tuned to the key of C, A=440
One of my first lithophones, and still my favorite, is made of chunks of Indiana limestone from my local stonecutter’s scrap pile. I didn’t tune this set at all… I just kept tapping pieces until I had my octave. Here’s an appropriate tune:
This next video demonstrates three more instruments. The first is a two and a half octave chromatic “Tile-a-phone”... a lithophone made of strips cut from black granite floor tile that I bought at Odom’s, my local building materials recycler. The second lithophone is an eleven note diatonic set made from bars cut from scap granite countertop, and weighs about 55 pounds. Finally a quick demo of one of my “toolbox glockenspiels” made from wrenches and bolts.
This is undoubtedly the only instrument of its kind in the world… a lithophone made of Petoskey Stone. It’s Michigan’s state stone, and is actually fossilized coral from the Devonian Age, 350 million years ago. This single octave diatonic instrument is made of slabs cut one-eighth inch thick.
Here is a bit of Beethoven on my newest glockenspiel, which is in the key of C (A=440). The technical term for this is a “metalaphone”, they are generally called “bells” in orchestras, larger instruments are “chimes”. For these I like “Toolbox Glockenspiel”. Glockenspiel is German for “bell speaker” and is the common term for bells used for marching band.
In 2008, I made a pilgrimage to Ringing Rocks State Park in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania and will post video of that at some point. On that trip, I also got to play a Deagan Aluminum Harp. More about that here.
Here are links to sites with information about, and the history of, “Rock Music”.
My sincere thanks to Jim Doble who generously shares great information about mallet instrument construction on his website, and has his instruments for sale there.
- This Wikipedia article is a good place to start. It has lots of links and references.
- A great story on the 1840’s English Rock Band craze from NPR
- English musician Mike Adcock is in the process of putting together a wonderful compilation of instruments on his new lithophones website
- A YouTube video of Italian sculptor Pinnucio Sciola who literally makes stone sing.
- An excellent paper by German Geology Museum Director Ulrike Stottrop
- A 1941 Time article about a geology professor from Connecticut, Edward L. Troxell who built an instrument he called a Petrophone.
- The Vittala Temple in Hampi India is famous for its musical stone pillars
- A fascinating study connecting Neolithic Petroglyphs and musical rocks in Southern India by Nicole Boivin