Homegrown Music: Make a Bamboo Flute (Part II)

Completing an earlier discussion, here are a few of the finer points of making, tuning, and playing a bamboo flute.

| January/February 1983

  • Marc Bristol with guitar
    When he's not playing a bamboo flute, Marc Bristol also plays guitar.
  • bamboo flute - illustration of flute player
    Playing a bamboo flute is somewhat like blowing across the top of a bottle.
    Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • Marc Bristol with guitar
  • bamboo flute - illustration of flute player

In my last column (Homegrown Wind Instrument: How to Carve a Homemade Bamboo Flute), I introduced you to Craig Rusbult, a bamboo flute maker extraordinaire. And that particular article went on to detail some of the basics of Craig's technique with the aim of allowing you to craft a primitive flute of your own.

We've already discussed where to find the right bamboo for the job, how to cut it and remove the central membrane, and how to position — and form — the mouthpiece and finger holes. However, although that column did provide all the information necessary to produce a "playable" instrument, the piece didn't include (because of space limitations) the "three F's" of bamboo-flute construction: fine tuning, finishing, and fingering. I aim to remedy that situation here and now.

Fine Tuning

In the first part of this article I explained the importance of enlarging each hole in gradual increments, in order to "sneak up" on the right pitch, but there are some other tuning pointers that I think will also prove helpful.

For example, if you drill a small starter hole that produces an on-pitch but relatively weak note, you can obtain a clearer, more open sound by slightly enlarging the opening on the side closest to the flute's open end. And if a hole produces a very flat note, you can increase its pitch significantly by gradually expanding the opening on the side nearest the mouthpiece.

Of course there's always the danger of making a hole too large, and therefore too sharp. If you find yourself in that situation, you may want to imitate a trick of Craig's: He stands his flute on end (mouthpiece down), applies a little white glue to the upward-facing edge of the offending opening, and allows it to dry. By building up this surface slightly, he's able to lower the pitch produced by the hole.

Double Up

You'll likely be glad to know (if you don't already) that your homemade flute is capable of producing a second octave, which is played by simply blowing harder than usual into the instrument while using the same finger positions as those employed for the "normal" scale. Once you've shaped the holes to your satisfaction, then, you'll want to check the tuning of those higher notes. If your bamboo's natural taper is just right — that is, if the tube's inside diameter decreases very uniformly from its closed to its open end — the upper octave may be naturally in tune.

4/12/2007 2:43:57 AM

Hi there, I am trying to make a flute out of bamboo for my kids and I read with interest the article re making a bamboo flute (part 2) from 1983. I wondered if you could provide me with a link to part 1? Thanks.   Mother responds: Here is the link to Part One http://www.motherearthnews.com/DIY/1982-11-01/Homegrown-Music-Make-a-Bamboo-Flute.aspx

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