The simple transverse, or side-blown flute is likely one of the oldest flutes known to man. Also known as the fife, this instrument was traditionally used to play military music. Modern reproductions of these instruments can be made from synthetic materials, such as PVC pipe. Making your own side blown PVC flute requires just a few tools and a little planning in order to produce a good sounding instrument. The instructions here produce a flute that will play a B-flat major scale.
Things You'll Need
- Ruler Or Other Straight Edge At Least 6 Inches Long
- Cork Screw (Optional)
- Bottle Brush
- Saw Or Tube-Cutter
- Drill Bits, 1/4 Inch Or 5/16 Mm In Diameter
- Pvc Pipe, 3/4 Inch In Diameter, 14 Inches In Length
- Round File (Optional)
- Speed Adjustable Electric Drill
- Awl, Pen, Or Pencil
- Whittling Knife
- Metric Circle Template (Optional)
- Dowel Rod (Optional)
- Cork Or Rubber Stopper
Preparing the Tube
Secure the tube in a vise. Cut to a length of 14 inches using the saw or tube-cutter.
Mark the areas to be drilled (see Section 2) with an awl or pencil mark. Making a starter hole with an awl will keep the drill point from slipping. Consider inserting a dowel rod inside the tube to prevent drilling through the opposite side of the tube.
Measure the exact center of the tube’s diameter. Mark this point with a pencil. Draw a line along this length using the ruler, with the pencil mark as reference.
Choose one end of the tube for the mouth. Measure 2 inches from this point toward the opposite end. This will mark the outside edge of the blow hole.
Drilling the Holes
Select a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the final diameter for each hole.
Drill the blow hole to an oval shape approximately 3/8 inch across. Start with a small hole and enlarge it in 1/8 inch increments. Consider using a round file to given the hole a slight chamfer, or bevel. Experiment with the size and shape until a sound can be produced by blowing across the hole.
Drill the center of the first hole 3 inches from the opposite end of the tube to a diameter of 1/4 inch.
Drill the center of the second hole 1 5/8 inches from the first hole of the tube to a diameter of 1/4 inch.
Drill the center of the third hole 7/8 inch from the center of the second tube to a diameter of 1/4 inch.
Drill the center of the fourth hole 1 3/4 inches from the center of the third hole to a diameter of 1/4.
Drill the center of the fifth hole 1 1/8 inches from the center of the fourth hole to diameter of 1/4 inch.
Drill the center of the sixth hole 1 1/8 inches from the mouth end of the tube to a diameter of 1/4 inch.
Remove the tape (and dowel rod, if used).
Fitting a Plug
Cut a piece of cork or rubber stopper to fit snugly inside the tube.
Insert the cork or rubber stopper so that it is 1/8 inch from the outside edge of the blow hole.
Fit the exposed end of the cork or rubber stopper with a cork screw. This can be used to change the position of the stopper inside the tube. If the distance between the stopper and the blow hole is greater than about 1/8 of an inch, the pitch of the flute will be lower. If the distance is less, the pitch will be higher.
Remove the cork screw from the stopper once you've found a suitable pitch.
Decorate the flute, if desired.
Playing the Side Blown Flute
Hold the flute at a right angle to your mouth, and blow across the blow hole.
Put the flute to your mouth so that the lower lip barely touches the blow hole. Roll the flute slightly away, then blow gently to the opposite side of the hole.
Experiment with placing your fingers over each hole while blowing the flute, partly covering and uncovering the holes to hear the difference in tone produced.
- "Making and Playing Musical Instruments"; J. Botermans, H. Goddefroy Dewit, A. Den Boer; 1989
- "Origins and Development of Musical Instruments"; Jeremy Montagu; 2007
Douglas Howard holds a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Spanish from Indiana University. Over the past decade, he has worked as a freelance journalist for magazines in Europe, as a newspaper reporter in the United States, and online as a marketing content provider. He currently attends Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the technical communication program to add technical writing to his repertoire.