Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making 'Glassical' Music - Glass Hand Bells

Glass can create such pure, musical sounds! Here's one of my 'glassical' music projects. These hand bells are easy and inexpensive to make, and they always fascinate students, colleagues and friends.
I've always been intrigued with musical sound. I remember discovering the pitch of our vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, and junk items as a child. So making found-sound instruments is a passion of mine and a FUN music education tool.

As for musical-sounding glassware, I've collected it over time, bought a set of crystal at an estate sale for a 'song', and turned the glassware aisle at my local thrift store upside down a few times (fastest method and inexpensive for a project). 

Materials List: 

       Stemware sorted by pitch

     Wooden beads
     String or strong thread

     Quick-grabbing clear glue
     Acrylic paint (optional, to color-code the pitches if desired)
 Tools: scissors, toothpick, permanent marker, bottle lids (or something of similar size)

Here's a picture I took during a visit to my local second-hand charity store. I was delighted with the quantity and variety of stemware they had. As I tapped pieces that interested me, I gathered the pieces of best quality and tone and placed them on the floor. Then I organized them according to pitch, from lowest to highest. Next, I narrowed my selection by choosing my fundamental note (G below middle C) and glasses that produced the pitches of the G major scale. I used my phone app tuner to check intonation. As you can imagine, all this tapping drew an intrigued audience, and I think a few customers gained a new appreciation for found-sounds : )

 After you've gathered materials (see above list), cut a piece of string for each 'bell' you'll be making,  measuring about twice the height of each glass. Thread a string through a bead, placing the bead at the half-way point of the string. Then tie the string in a square knot around the bead as shown.
(Repeat for each instrument.)

Next, holding the string ends together, dangle the wooden bead in the glass about 1" above the bottom, and use a marker to mark the string adjacent to the rim. (Note: This will be the distance from the rim where the bead strikes the bell. 3/4 of cup height is a 'sweet spot'.) Holding both ends together, make a knot at this point. (This will 
a good contact point
for the glue. Trim string ends. 

(At this point, you will need to work on one 'bell' at a time.) Put a generous drop of glue inside the cup at its base and use a toothpick to poke the knotted end of the string into the glue. Hold the bead for a minute or more while glue begins to set.

Invert the glass, placing the bead on a bottle lid (or something of similar size, even a piece of wadded-up paper) to keep its weight from pulling the string out of the glue. Let glue dry/set for a couple of hours.

Using a permanent marker, label the base of each piece of stemware with its note name. If desired, color-code the notes to match Boomwhackers (R) or hand bells by painting the wooden beads with acrylic craft paint.

I bought a small child's suitcase at the thrift store ($2) and created cardboard dividers to protect, store and transport these instruments, but I usually leave them out on a bookcase for display and easy access. Of course, I'm careful with these, but I've had the set in the top pic for four years and not had to repair or replace a note.


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