Saturday, July 12, 2014

Water Pipe Trombone

Here's a quick and fun instrument project I shared recently at BYU Arts Express in my 'STEAM' session. 

When designing/engineering an instrument, always keep in mind that any musical instrument requires three mechanisms: 
                  (1) material or technique to produce VIBRATION, 
                  (2) material to act as an AMPLIFIER of sound waves, and 
                  (3) mechanism or technique to control or VARY PITCH.

Since the player's buzzing lips are the source of vibration, this ‘trombone’ only requires the pitch variation and amplification mechanisms, and thus, it's very easy to make. 

A length of cold water pipe (blue PEX, 1/2” diameter)
A length of hot water pipe (red PEX, 5/8” diameter)

A plastic funnel that will fit either over or inside one of your pipes 
    (The funnel can be trimmed to fit if its neck tapers.)
Stickers or colored tape for decorating (if desired)

A ruler or measuring tape
A marker
A small hacksaw or sturdy knife for cutting
Duco Cement or other plastic cement for gluing funnel to pipe

PEX pipe is very easy and inexpensive to use. You will find it available at hardware and home improvement stores. I can cut it with small hacksaw (or even a sturdy paring knife), and its filings/dust doesn't have the respiratory dangers of PVC. 

Measure and mark each pipe, the blue, smaller one should be an inch or two longer than the red, larger one. For this instrument, I used 13.5 and 12.5 inch lengths. (Note: It's tempting to cut the pipes longer, but pitch control will be reduced by leaking air, and students' arms don't reach more than a couple of feet anyway.)

Determine whether your funnel will best fit inside or outside one of your pipes. You can trim the tapered neck of a funnel to fit your pipe. If you need to do so, ensure a snug fit by inserting your pipe into the open end of the funnel and marking where it makes contact with the neck.

Glue the funnel in place. Insert the wider diameter pipe over the smaller one. Decorate as desired. Press your lips against the end of your mouth pipe and slide the other pipe (with the funnel 'bell') in and out to vary pitch. Changing the speed and tension of your buzzing lips will also change the pitch.

                                                               Have Fun!

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