The glockenspiel comprises two parallel rows of chromatically tuned steel bars. Each bar has its own pitch which is determined by the length: the shorter the bar, the higher the pitch.
The bars are arranged in the same order as the keys of a piano.
The musician holds two to four mallets, the palm of the hand facing downward. The striking spot is almost in the middle of the bar.
The bars have a high density which aids the projection of the tone. Relatively heavy mallets are therefore necessary to cause the bars to vibrate.
Choice of mallet
Percussionists have a choice of mallets of varying hardness.
Hard (metal) mallets emphasize the higher partials, making the timbre brighter, harder and shriller.
Softer (wood) mallets damp the higher partials; the timbre becomes softer and rounder and contains more fundamental.
Very heavy mallets produce a distinctly audible percussive attack (dull clack) in loud passages, especially on table glockenspiels.
Individual notes can be damped with the hand following the attack, enabling the musician to determine the length of sustain. Damping with the mallet on the glockenspiel would produce an extraneous noise at the moment of impact. Conversely, damping with the mallet is standard practice on the vibraphone.
Damping is often indicated in the score by (x) after the note.
Notes on modern glockenspiels are damped in the same way as on the piano, i.e. there is a damper pedal which raises the dampers from the bars when depressed, allowing the note to resonate; without the pedal, the notes are automatically damped and sound very short.
Is played like a piano.