A Homemade Xylophone Using Pipes

This homemade xylophone might be handcrafted but it looks - and sounds - like the top of the line.

| November/December 1981

Many children first experience musicmaking while banging on the tinny, offkey bars of a toy xylophone. And though it's wonderfully stimulating for the youngsters, such activity is often a real headache-producer for their parents. However, you can inspire your young musician's creativity, and soothe your own nerves, with my homemade xylophone.

After a shopping trip for materials (during which you'll lay out a lot less cash than you'd need to purchase most manufactured toys nowadays) and an hour or so of assembly time, you'll have a permanent instrument on which your child can enjoy learning the elements of musical theory. Furthermore, I think you'll be amazed by the xylophone's pleasing tone ... and if you have a good ear, you can even adapt the design to vary the number or pitch of the instrument's "keys."

How it's Put Together

The simple pipe xylophone is made from common, readily obtainable materials, some of which you may already have around the house. The pipes are nothing more than sections of electrical metallic tubing (E.M.T.), usually sold in hardware or building supply stores. You'll need one standard 10-foot length, which should cost between $2.00 and $3.00. The 1/2" sizewhich has an outside diameter of almost 3/4"—will make a xylophone consisting of 13 pipes with three notes below the standard eight-tone octave and two above it.

The instrument's base is a wide piece of 3/4" shelf board (about 11" X 24"). Rather than resting upon the wood, though, the pipes are supported and cradled by an assembly of long strips and small blocks of polyurethane foam secured with ordinary white household glue.

Pipe Cutting 

To begin, use either a pipe cutter or a hacksaw to divide the conduit according to the chart measurements on the last page of this article. Start with the longest one. The length of each pipe determines its pitch, so try to match the measurements as precisely as possible but allow a little extra when you cut, to permit fine-tuning adjustments. Check each notemaker against the preceding one: The new note should be the next tone higher in the scale. (Remember that the changes from ti to do and mi to fa are halftones while the other intervals are whole tones.) If the pitch is flat (too low), you can saw off a little more to correct it. Very small discrepancies can be fixed later by extra filing.

It's a good idea to err on the side of too long, since it's impossible to add length to a pipe. If you do find that the pitch is sharp (too high), cut a new piece of pipe for that tone, and shorten the "mistake" for use as the next highest note in the scale.

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