The orchestra xylophone consists of two parallel rows of bars. Each bar produces a different pitch; the shorter the bar, the higher the pitch.
The bars are arranged in the same way as the keys on a piano; the low notes (= long bars) are on the left, the nigh notes (= short bars) on the right of the musician.
When playing, the musician stands at the xylophone with the bars lying lengthwise in front of him, pointing toward him. One or more mallets can be held in each hand. The mallets strike the bars and are constructed in such a way that they immediately spring back and so avoid damping the vibration of the bars. If the mallet head remains lying on the bar it is known as a dead stroke, which is used as a special effect. The mallets are held with the palm facing downward.
The width of the bars on xylophones and other mallet instruments often varies, which can cause the musician problems.
The xylophonist has a choice of mallets of differing hardness. Softer mallets damp the higher partials making the timbre softer, rounder and more gentle; harder mallets favor the higher partials, making the timbre brighter, harder and shriller.