Making Windchimes

by Eric Reiswig

Here's everything you need to know about making windchimes. They're really quite easy, and you can make them out of just about any kind of metal (or possibly other) tubing you like. I'm only talking about the chimes themselves here, i won't go into detail about what to hang them from, what to strike them with, what scale to tune to, &c, as those are the things that you have to decide for yourself; the things that make everybody's chimes unique.

Also, we're not just talking windchimes here. Xylophones and tubular bells work the same way, so use your imagination!

There are two basic questions about making wind chimes.

Q. Where do you hang the bars?

A. Simple. A uniform bar (or tube) will have a "node" at about 22.5% in from each end. The nodes are where there is no vibration of the material making up the bar. Since there's no vibration at these node points, it's safe to suspend the bar at 22.5% down from the top end without damping the vibrations. Depending on the material you're working with, and the particular application, you can drill a hole straight through the bar, or tie a cord at the right spot, &c. A nice idea, when tuning the bars, is to suspend a bar between, say, two nails using a wound-up elastic band. The elastic can hold the bar (without slipping, if you wind it tight enough) at the node, allowing you to strike it and listen to the pitch, search for the note on a piano, &c. Of course, an electronic chromatic tuner is the best tool for this.

Q. How long do you make the bars?

A. First, it's usually not practical to exactly predict what note a given length of a given material will produce. You have to take into account all sorts of physical properties of the material, which aren't easy to determine. The good news is, once you make one bar, and find out what note it plays, you can accurately predict any other length/pitch for the same material. It's simple:

L2 = L1 * SquareRoot(F1/F2)

L1 is the length of your "reference" bar;
F1 is the note it plays (in Hz);
F2 is the note you want the next bar to play;
L2 is the length to which you'll have to cut the next bar.

For example: say you've got an aluminum bar 12" long, and it plays "D" at 587 Hz (You might have to trim a little off this first bar to get it to play a "real" note. Remember that a short bar gives a higher pitch than a longer bar.) You want to make another bar which sounds the "A" at 880 Hz. Provided you use the same kind of bar (that means the same material, same width), you'll get your "A" from a bar 9.8" long.

Q. OK, so how do i find out frequencies for notes? (Alright, so there are three questions :-)

A. Here's three octaves' worth, from an even-tempered scale based on A=440. (If you're looking to use a different temperament, you're on your own.) If you need to go to the next octave up, multiply the frequency by 2. Similarly, to go down an octave, divide the frequency by 2.

C : 261.63     C : 523.25     C : 1046.50
C#: 277.18     C#: 554.36     C#: 1108.73
D : 293.66     D : 587.33     D : 1174.66
Eb: 311.13     Eb: 622.25     Eb: 1244.51
E : 329.63     E : 659.26     E : 1318.51
F : 349.23     F : 698.46     F : 1396.91
F#: 369.99     F#: 739.99     F#: 1479.98
G : 392.00     G : 783.99     G : 1567.98
G#: 415.30     G#: 830.61     G#: 1661.22
A : 440.00     A : 880.00     A : 1760.00
Bb: 466.16     Bb: 932.93     Bb: 1864.66
B : 493.88     B : 987.77     B : 1975.53

There you have it. If you've got any questions, comments, &c, please do drop me an email.

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This page was last revised on 12th August 2002 by Eric Reiswig.