Can you hear that mellifluous tone? But no, it's not an entire flock of hyped up ducks, it's the most marvelous honk! This is an introduction project to the way that single reed instruments work and sound resonance as well. All while sounding like a wily waterfowl. Let's quack it up.
- What: The Most Marvelous Honk
- Why: valid question
- Concepts: sound, resonance, music, single-reed instruments, vibration
- Time: ~ 10 minutes, more for experimenting
- Cost: ~ $0.05 cents
- PVC pipe
- Firm plastic (packaging plastic works well)
- Duct Tape
- Saw (bandsaw, hacksaw, or PVC knife)
Step 1: The Sound
The most marvelous mouthpiece sounds amazingly...like your standard duck. And like most things I love, is pleasantly annoying.
It's all just a single bit of plastic flapping around with wind, which is the same way single-reed instruments work (clarinet, saxophone). As you blow air over the reed, it is forced to flap back and forth at the resonant frequency of the open-air tube. That build-up of sound waves makes a large pressure wave to your audience's ears. The pitch directly related to the length of the tube you have on the end, which single reed instruments modify by opening and closing air holes. To learn more about reeds, this is a good summary of the science!
Step 2: Make a Diagonal Cut
Start with your short piece of PVC and make a diagonal cut, around 30 degrees or so. At the very tip of it, you also want to make the curve a little bit steeper, which will allow a little space between your reed and the mouthpiece.
There are many ways to cut PVC, and I used a bandsaw in this case. A hacksaw works great for this project, especially when working with a large class. At the end, file down the tip so it curves downward slightly and to get rid of PVC flakes.
And if you mess up, it's a just a bit of pipe. Try another time!
SAFETY NOTE: Cutting round stock on band saws bare-handed can be potentially dangerous. For most cuts, people prefer to use a sled in the event that the material starts spinning out of control. Angled cuts have less risk, but it is something to be aware of. Hacksaws are a great substitute if you want.
Step 3: Cut and Attach Your Reed
Oh we're so close to annoying everyone!
Take your piece of plastic, and cut it to the approximate size of the pipe exposed from your diagonal cut. Use duct tape to attach it to your mouthpiece, checking to make sure it is at least large enough to cover the hole. When you hold it sideways, you should be able to see a slight gap between the reed and mouthpiece. This will be the open position, and allow your reed space to flap!
Experiment with it, and it's easy to cut a new one if you need.
Step 4: Let Ducks Ring
To play your most marvelous mouthpiece, cup your lips around both sides, and you can use your teeth to stabilize. Take big steady breaths and with some adjustment, you'll find the technique. Once you get it, you won't forget it, and you can bring your honks wherever you go. Here is a small paragraph on reed-playing techniques for woodwinds for reference.
You can attach different pipes of PVC for different sound, or just let your duck self be heard. Have fun, keep exploring, and it's okay to be annoying every once in a while. :)