X is for … Xylophone

X is for Xylophone

While the use of the word xylophone for X is obvious, I wanted to take the opportunity to share one of my very favorite composers and pieces of music with you.

Camille Saint-Saens and Danse Macabre

The reason this falls under X is for Xylophone is because the xylophone is featured prominently in this piece. This also falls perfectly for an October theme and music study.

A xylophone is a musical instrument that falls under the percussion family. It is part of the percussion family because the sound is created by striking the bars with a mallet. A xylophone’s bars can be made of wood, metal, or plastic; sometimes they are made of whatever material is readily available by the makers. Each type of bar creates a different sound and thus each type has a different name but they are all commonly known as xylophones.


Xylophones are common instruments around the world and some of the most famous xylophone groups come from Africa. If you would like to do an instrument study about an instrument that is found in a number of cultures, the xylophone is your instrument! Africa, the Philippines, Asia, Europe, North America, South America – all have a version of the xylophone.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) is a French composer that is well known for his tone poems and program music. You might know of his pieces Carnival of the Animals or Peter and the Wolf. Danse Macabre is much in the same line of music as these other two pieces. In addition to this style of music, Saint-Saens also wrote a number of symphonies and other orchestral works. His music is rich and full and no matter how many times you listen to a piece, there is always something else to discover in his music.

Danse Macbre was originally an art song using a text by Henri Cazalis. The text came from an old French legend or superstition that says that at midnight on October 31, every year, death come and calls forth the dead by playing his fiddle. They dance and play until the rooster crows at dawn. They all then return to their places until the next year.

The art song didn’t go over too well so Saint-Saens reworked the piece for an orchestra, featuring a solo violin as death and the xylophone as the skeletons dancing. This reworked piece for orchestra has always been a favorite of mine. It is an easy piece to teach students how to follow a listening map. (You can find some of these by doing searches on the web but I cannot share the one I have because of its copyright.)

The version of this piece that we will be listening to is found on The Classical Collection Volume 2, disc 1. Again, you can find a number of versions on YouTube or purchase one just about anywhere that sells classical music.

Because this is a topic that is so sensitive and varies significantly from family to family, I am not going to link any videos or listening maps. These are easy to search for but please do so without little ones in the room! There are a couple that may work for your family but there are a number that come up with undesirable images. Also, if you choose to show them a video, please preview it all the way through. Our little ones are special and they cannot unsee anything we show them. This is one topic that needs previewed.

xylophone 2

A couple of ideas for using this piece:

  1. Just listen. Listen for a specific instrument or musical theme. There are many options for listening.
  2. Move. The students can move anytime they hear the theme or instrument you have asked them to listen for. They can move like the skeletons that have been called out.
  3. Play along. The theme has a fairly consistent rhythm that the student could play with the music.
  4. Have the students create a piece of artwork that shows what they hear, either before or after you have shared the superstition with them.
  5. Have the students choreograph movement to go along with the piece. It does not have to show the superstition unless you or they want it to. The repetition of the piece is easy to choreograph.
  6. Borrow a xylophone if you can and play with it. You can play alongside the music (it doesn’t have to match) or allow the students to improvise and create their own pieces.
  7. The students can write a poem to describe the music. Then, they could create their own music to go along with their poem. A full circle.
  8. Create a water xylophone. Play a piece of music on it. Improvise and sing along with it.
  9. Have Fun!

I really enjoy this piece of music and hope you will try some of these ideas with your students or family. At Home.

Linking up with Benandme.com for the ABC Blogging series.

Ben and Me

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3 thoughts on “X is for … Xylophone

  1. […] X is for … Xylophone […]

  2. Z is for…Zoo | At Home December 21, 2019 at 10:58 pm Reply

    […] unbelievably sweet princess slumber party V – victory W – what’s inside X – xylophone Y – yummy Z – […]

  3. […] X is for … Xylophone […]

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