Picture of Copper pipe glockenspiel
Build a great-sounding glockenspiel out of copper pipes!  The pipes, when correctly mounted, have a lovely bell-like tone.  This glockenspiel (a glockenspiel is like a xylophone, but with metal slats or tubes) is based on a project in this book, but with a larger range and tuning information based on theory from this excellent article.  

This is potentially a very educational project.  Several learning objectives are possible, depending on the subject area of interest:
  • Mathematics: Solve simple equations to match pipe length to notes.
  • Physics: Learn about the relationship between length and first-mode vibrational frequency.
  • Music theory: Learn about the relationship between frequencies and notes.
  • Shop: Learn how to measure and cut wood, join it with nails or glue, and work with metal pipe.
I built this project with my six-year-old son.  The exact amounts of material you need depend on what musical coverage you want the instrument to have.  After consultation with my nine-year-old daughter as to what music she wanted to play on it, I opted for nine notes, covering a C-major octave, plus an extra D at the top, namely from C6 to D7.  The lower the notes, the longer the copper pipes will need to be, and hence the more copper pipe you will need.  On the other hand, the higher the notes, the more precisely the cuts will need to be made.  

The basic idea with this glockenspiel is that there is a wooden frame with two rows of nails sticking out of it, and rubber bands joining neighboring nails in each row.  The rubber bands hold the pipes in place while giving them a lot of freedom to vibrate.  The hard work is making sure the pipes are the right length and held by the rubber bands in the right place.

The amounts of material below, and measurements mentioned later, assume our nine-note range from C6 to D7.  
  • About eight feet of type M 1/2" nominal copper pipe.  Despite being called 1/2", this has an outside diameter of 5/8", and a thickness of about 0.03".  You need the total length of your pipes (see Step 2 for pipe length calculations) plus about an inch per pipe to compensate for mistakes and to allow tuning.  This is the expensive part of the project.  (Our Lowes sells 10' for $12.)  Note: If you combine pipe from two sources (as we did--we used some old pipe that was lying around and some pipe we bought), you will have to make separate calculations and measurements for the two pipes, in case the dimensions are not exactly the same--the tuning is very sensitive to the dimensions.
  • About four feet of approximately 3/4" x 2" wood.  The 3/4" is best left as is, but the 2" can be varied from about 1" to 3" with no harm.  Any kind of wood will work.
  • 20 to 28 nails, approximately 1.5" long and 1/16" in thickness (20 nails if the wood is joined with glue, 28 if the wood is joined with nails, in between if both are used)
  • 15" of some sort of tubing that can loosely fit over the bottoms of the nails to keep the rubber bands for sliding down; we used heat-shrink tubing (but didn't shrink it); in a pinch, you can cut up drinking straws; or you can go to Lowes or Home Depot and pick up two feet of some cheap plastic tubing
  • Drill and drill bit for pilot holes for the nails; a drill press can make life a bit easier
  • 20 rubber bands, approximately 6" circumference
  • wood for one or two hammers; we used about 8" of 5/16" dowel for the handle and about 1.5" of 7/8" dowel for the head
  • a phone, tablet or computer with an app that calculates the peak frequency of sound coming in through a microphone;  we used an Android mini-tablet and found that the free Fourier application was best, though some of the fine tuning was double checked with gStrings;  you may find that some specific music tuning applications don't work very well for this, because your initial tuning will be quite far from an official note
  • a calculator or a calculator app
  • pipe cutters (we were cheap and used our hacksaw--that was a ton of work, and messy)
  • flat file or other sanding/trimming tool (belt sander, disc sander, bench grinder, Dremel, etc.)
  • Optional: wood glue (I used Titebond II)
  • Optional: paint
The next step will describe the basic theory and mathematics behind the project.  As Plato insisted, music is very mathematical, but the mathematics is not very hard.

Here is my nine-year-old untrained daughter playing a scale and a piece.

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itz_thalia made it!2 months ago

Made it for my grade 11 physics project :D Kinda switched up the design a little but i think it turned out well!!

mrmom5121 year ago
HELP! About the equation to find the pipe measurement I need a certain frequency, but it is so unclear on how to find 'A', I really need help on how to find this! Do I multiply or divide something? PLEASE HELP.
arpruss (author)  Sameralovescats001 year ago

Step 4 gives details of how to calculate A from a frequency measurement for a test pipe.

cjs12981 year ago
I think you could add on to this with accidental bars. (Black on Piano). Then you can play a much larger spectrum of music.
bounty10122 years ago
I've made a spreadsheet that should calculate your lengths automatically once you plug in your "A" variable, you can get it here:
arpruss (author) 2 years ago
Yes, that would make the tubing on which the rubber bands rest unnecessary. Good idea.
gcmiller2 years ago
Nice instructable! For simplifying nails, consider double headed nails.
Actually, copper metal is harmless (sharp edges aside). It's copper compounds that are toxic, and you have to be pretty careless to ingest enough to harm yourself. Washing the swarf off your hands afterwards is a good idea, as with any metal.
Wonderful! More proof that you can make music with ANYTHING!
dchall83 years ago
This works with steel pipe conduit, too. Only problem with that is that it is welded and the sound is slightly dulled. But if you want to prove the concept and the math, steel is much less expensive.
arpruss (author)  dchall83 years ago
You could also get non-welded steel pipe or tube. I checked on, though, and their mild steel tubes seemed slightly more expensive than Lowes' copper pipes which are $1.18 per foot.
arpruss (author) 3 years ago
Does anybody know a good iPhone app to use for checking the peak frequency? Or good desktop apps?
mikeasaurus3 years ago
Fantastic project! Glockenspiel gefaellt mir!
arpruss (author) 3 years ago
Thanks! I really like the color scheme the kids and I came up with.

For Christmas, one of the gifts for our six-year-old was the ingredients for several woodworking projects, and this was one of them. We've got a couple more projects to go!
stumitch3 years ago
NICE!!! now I have a new project to try with my metal/wood classes. very well done!
wilgubeast3 years ago
This looks absolutely fantastic. I particularly like how you made the connection with more than one subject's learning objective. More glockenspiel.