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This postcard from 1906 illustrates the method of early lithophone performances in Luray Caverns, Virginia, United States
Lithophone sculpture in Schloss Freudenberg

A lithophone is a musical instrument consisting of a rock or pieces of rock which are struck to produce musical notes.[1] Notes may be sounded in combination (producing harmony) or in succession (melody). The lithophone is an idiophone comparable to instruments such as the glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone and marimba.

In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, lithophones are designated as '111.22' – directly-struck percussion plaques.

Notable examples[edit]

A more sophisticated lithophone trims and mounts individual stones to achieve a full-scale idiophone:

Lithophone as Architectural Element[edit]

  • Ancient Indians were perhaps the first to use man-made lithophones as architectural elements. Temples like Nellaiyappar temple (8th century) in Tirunelveli, Vijaya Vitthala temple (15th century) in Hampi, Madurai Meenakshi temple (16th century) and Suchindram Thanumalayan temple (17th century) have musical pillars.[7]

Stone marimba[edit]

A stone marimba is configured in the same manner as the more typical wooden bar marimba. The bars are usually wide like a wooden marimba, but are thinner, which helps increase resonance. The stone marimba may or may not have resonators.

A stone marimba housed at the Musée de l'Homme is possibly the oldest-known musical instrument on the planet.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diagram Group. (1976). Musical instruments of the world. Published for Unicef by Facts On File. p. 121. ISBN 0871963205. OCLC 223164947.
  2. ^ P. Yule/M. Bemmann, Klangsteine aus Orissa Die frühesten Musikinstrumente Indiens?, Archaeologia Musicalis 2.1, 1988, 41–50 (also in English and French); Paul Yule, Rätsel indischer Kultur, in: H.-G. Niemeyer - R. Pörtner (eds.), Die großen Abenteuer der Archäologie (Salzburg 1987) vol. 10, p. 3739 ISBN 385012150X.
  3. ^ "Musical Stones: Rock music from the Cumbrian Hills". Brantwood Trust. Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  4. ^
  5. ^ A clip of Sigur Rós playing the slate marimba can be found here:
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Prasad, M.G.; Rajavel, B. "Musical pillars and singing rocks" (PDF). Taranga. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  8. ^ The stones of Ndut Lieng Krak. New Scientist. 10 January 1957. p. 8. Retrieved 5 January 2013.

External links[edit]

  • The British composer Will Menter [2] invented the llechiphone, a marimba with keys made of slate, while working in North Wales.[3]
  • UK Musician, Tony Dale developed a resonated slate lithophone in 1984 featured by composer John Hardy.
  • Other slate lithophones, called stonaphones, are made in the U.S. state of Maine by Jim Doble out of recycled slate roofing.[4]
  • An installation in Quark Park by Perry Cook and Jonathan Shor, consisting of 17 bars stretched over a 35-foot (11 m) long path.
  • Audio and video of Stalacpipe Organ on Sound Tourism site
  • Photographs, audio clips, and videos of lithophones from around the world, historical and contemporary.