Approximate Tube Lengths for Pan flutes

When making pan pipes the length of the tube is the main determining factor of the pipe pitch. Although the diameter can slightly alter the pitch it is very minor and does not effect it enough to worry about. The inside diameter of the tubes do effect the tone however. Not so much the pitch, or frequency at which the note vibrates, but the shading of the note is effected by the diameter for the inside of the tube. By shading i mean the quality that makes it possible to identify a violin playing an "A" tone or a piano producing the same note. Although the both tones are the same exact pitch or frequency, they sound completely different because of the sound envelope and the shading.
This then is what the inside diameter of the pan pipe determines, the way it sounds rather than the actual pitch. I find that the inside diameter of 1/2" PVC schedule 40 pipe has a diameter of .600" and it is smooth and round. I find you can make a very nice instrument from this material. Bamboo however has the superior sound quality over PVC and is a little more difficult build and assemble the ones made from bamboo.
I will use the figures i compiled making PVC pipes for this chart as that set of figures is more complete. This list represents three full octaves. Each successive set of figures produces the same tone but in a different octave, or multiple of the frequency. When building a set of pan pipes, leave an extra bit of material more than what is indicated here. Add 1/4" to 1/2" to these lengths when cutting your material. You will need that extra for tuning the flute later on.

B
C
C#
D
Eb
E
F
F#
G
Ab
A
Bb
13.032
12.312
11.750
11.062
10.375
9.906
9.250
8.750
8.250
7.750
7.720
6.844
6.643
6.000
5.688
5.375
5.040
4.725
4.442
4.178
3.864
3.628
3.415
3.210
2.958
2.772
2.547
2.476
2.233
2.122
1.956
1.785
1.593
1.492
1.448
1.356

The letters going across the top are the names of the notes. The numbers listed below them are the lengths of pipe, when finished, that produce the same note in a higher frequency, one octave above the fundamental (lowest note available). The next set of numbers represent the next octave, etc. In all cases the numbers are expressed in inches, to the third decimal place.

Playing the pan flute and Harmonics

An interesting thing to note here about lengths of the pipes. Normal playing, the longer the pipe the lower the tone, and the shorter the pipe, the higher the tone. However higher tones can be coaxed out of the pipes than the fundamental note. With a little practice one can learn to use the correct embouchure to achieve a note from a tube that is one full octave and a fifth higher than the fundamental note of the tube. With this in mind a person can make a pan pipe that is much shorter and has fewer tubes. The South American Zampona is a good example of this. Looking at the chart above lets see what this means in real world terms.
To start off with lets take the lowest note on the chart above. It is a "B" and using pvc pipe, that is about the lowest fundamental note you can make with 1/2" pvc pipe. It is too difficult to produce a clean note lower than this blowing in a normal fashion. So if i hold my lips a certain way, and blow an air stream of a certain size and velocity across the sound edge of the pipe, i can make a note that comes out sounding the exact same frequency as the F# note that is more than one full octave higher than the fundamental tuning of the tube.
Continuing with this strategy of conserving number of tubes lets look at the highest note that i have on the list. It is a "Bb" and is two full octaves higher than the lowest "Bb" on the chart. Let us assume that this is the highest note i want to achieve. Well then all i have to do is go down the list and see which fundamental note is the fundamental for this octave and a fifth higher note. This turns out to be the "Eb" note that is made with the pipe of 5.040" length. So this means that the shortest pipe i need to have is the 5.040" Eb and i get the full range of the chart. The shading and tone are not quite the same using the harmonics but the pitch is, and if you are playing with other instruments it will sound just fine.
There may be double octaves available on any length pipe, as in the penny whistles. I don't know and i can only tell you about what i have discovered, not my theories. As i mentioned before, this is a trip of discovery for me and i am speaking from no authority except my own revelations. As i learn to do something, whether or not it is the "correct" way or not, if it works, i will share it with anybody.



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