Tampon Pan Flute

It’s summer and the birds are singing their sweet songs. Join them with a musical tampon applicator pan flute. This eight-note pan pipe covers an entire octave, so you can play some of your favorite tunes. The hills are alive with the sound of tampons!

Materials

  • 3 Tampax cardboard vending tubes
  • 5 Tampax tampon cardboard applicators (unused)
  • Thin cardboard
  • Fine-point marker
  • Utility knife
  • Hot glue gun
  • 16 tampon strings
  • Pitch pipe, piano or electronic tuner

Ode to Joy

(Click above to watch the video or download directly)

Instructions

On the cardboard, make outlines for the pipe end pieces by tracing around the end of a tampon tube and applicator (the larger end). You’ll need one for each “pipe” – three for the vending tubes and five for the applicators. Cut out with the utility knife. Make sure the circles are slightly larger than the tubes they are covering.

Trim the crimped end (just 2 or 3 mm) off a vending tube and check the pitch by blowing across the top like you would blow across a bottle, while sealing off the air on the bottom end. The air must be sealed off completely. It should be about a D major. Adjust if necessary by trimming a small amount off the bottom until the pitch is correct. It should be about 5 inches or 12.5 cm long. It is not necessary to trim off both of the crimped ends of the tube. The crimping actually makes the pipe easier to play.

Since we’re using a D-major scale, the notes will be D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. The next two notes made with the vending tubes are E and F#. These tubes need to be roughly 4½ inch and 4 inches respectively - or about 11.5 cm and 10.5 cm. Shorten them in small increments and test the pitch as you go along. Check all tunings carefully, as the pitch can go flat or sharp with a slight change in the angle that you blow.

The next four pipes are made from tampon applicators. To “tune” the B, A, and G pipes, hold an applicator with the larger (wider) end up and your finger over the bottom. As you slide the smaller tube up and down in the larger one, the pitch will change. Use your tuning device to determine how much the tubes need to be shortened to achieve a desired note (B, A, and G). Mark and label the note positions on that applicator and use it as a reference. The approximate total lengths will be 4 inches or 10 cm (G), 3 3/8 inches or 8.5 cm (A), and 3 1/8 inches or 8 cm (B).

Use the reference marks to line up the tubes to get the appropriate note. Double check using the tuning device, and then hot glue the applicator tubes together around their circumference. Make sure the joint between the wide and narrow tubes is completely sealed and airtight. The last two notes, C# and D, require only the wider top portion of the applicator. Trim the tubes to achieve the desired notes. The approximate lengths for these tubes is 2 1/8 inches or 6.7 cm (C#) and 2 3/8 inches or 6 cm.

Glue the cardboard discs over the cut end of each tube (or in the case of the B, A, and G pipes, over the smaller end). The discs need to be centered and sealed with glue all the way around so they are airtight. The easiest way to do this is to put a thin layer of hot glue around the rim of the tube, place the disc on it, line it up and let it set, then seal around the circumference.

The pipes could simply be hot-glued together at this point. We wanted to add a decorative element to give the appearance that they were tied with twine, but using tampon strings. We chose to use a natural dye, so we soaked the strings in an infusion of ground coffee and hot water overnight, then dried them. You can use any fabric dye of your choice, or a natural dye, such as coffee, turmeric, beet juice, or even menstrual blood.

The pipes are glued together and the strings are added at the same time. One string will encircle two pipes in a figure-8 pattern, and you’ll be making two rows of string. Start with the larger pipes, placing a row of twine about 1 inch from the top and another about two inches below it. Tack the ends of the top and bottom strings in place, and then lay down a line of hot glue around the tube, pressing the string into it. When the first tube is fully encircled, glue the next tube on. Put a glob of glue over the points where the string completes its circle, covering over both the end of the string and the midpoint. Press the second pipe on, let set, then continue wrapping and gluing the string around the second tube until it reaches the center. Tuck the end into the joint between the pipes. You can glue/tie the pipes together in units of two (D/E, F#/G, A/B, C#/B) and then glue the pairs together. Make sure the pipes line up across the top.

To play the flute, purse your lips and blow sharply across the openings. The key is to get a strong, steady, thin stream of air directed across and slightly into the tube. The pitch may vary slightly according to the angle, so try to keep the pipes at the same angle relative to your mouth as you play.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

(Click above to watch the video or download directly)


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