Project Inspiration: How to Make Bamboo Panpipes

Following our recent blog post on how to create wooden spinners, next up in our project inspiration series is bamboo panpipes. Opportunities for learning include safe tool use, measurement and fine motor skill development. This year, we created bamboo panpipes during our Grade 2 measurement unit. The measuring, re-measuring and sawing is a wonderfully authentic learning experience for measuring in centimetres.

Whether you’re using it as a way to practise measuring or as a challenge to play the perfect pentatonic scale, this project is great. The children also have something to take home at the end, which is a win in anybody’s book.

A Quick Note on Organisation

As with everything on this blog, you are going to take ideas and adapt them to suit your own space, number of students and confidence levels. When taking on this project, remember to consider the following:

The Layout of your Space – Consider having an area for sawing and a separate space for everything else. This will help students to manage their space bubbles while using the hacksaws.

The Process – Be clear about the process you want students to go through. For example, only approach the sawing table when your measurement has been checked and only when there is an available saw. When you’ve cut your bamboo, move back to the work station for sanding and cleaning.

Be Prepared: Giving each student a 1.2m length of bamboo to work with can be hilarious but also potentially hazardous. When concentrating on measuring, they tend to lose awareness of the other end of their stick and other people end up getting hit or poked. Pre-cut your bamboo into more workable lengths.

Step 1: The Bamboo

As a rough guide, you’re looking for bamboo with a diameter of 1.5cm. Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect size. Just be aware that the bigger the hole in the middle is, the more air you’ll need to make a good sound.

GEEK ZONE: Bamboo is a monocot which means, like grass, it grows from the bottom up. The sections and nodes show where new growth occurred and the internal diaphragms aid the the transportation of water and nutrients. What that means for us is that wherever you see a node, the tube is blocked. If you wanted to, you could use these natural blockages to help create your panpipes. However, to assist with cleaning, tuning and ease of construction, we suggest avoiding nodes where possible.

Step 2: Measure

“Measure twice, cut once” and, “You can’t put it back on”. With these pearls of wisdom from my carpenter brother in mind, we get students to measure twice before getting a friend to check their measurement too. [Insert a short ‘measuring in centimetres’ tutorial here if necessary]. Initially, we included a ‘check measurement with adult’ step before sawing. We started at 7cm because we found that anything less than that was difficult to get a sound out of.

Top tip: Because we want our pipes to be node-free, make sure that your students know their measured distance should not cross a node.

Step 3: Cut

It’s time to get the hacksaws out. Remember to have a glove on the hand that is holding the bamboo. Try to cut as straight as possible to make your life easier later on when glueing everything together. We find bench hooks really useful to aid the sawing process but they are not essential.

If your learners have little experience with using a hacksaw, getting a straight cut might be easier said than done. If this is the case, do a quick demonstration and then give them some time to practise.

Top Tip: Keep an eye on the condition of your hacksaw blades. They can get blunt fairly quickly and sometimes bent. Bent blades can make it impossible get a straight cut and can be frustrating for students. Have a pack of spare blades and change them out as necessary.

Step 4: Name

For the sake of your own sanity, do not miss this step. BEFORE THEY DO ANYTHING ELSE, students should write their name on each freshly cut piece of bamboo. As a general rule, we encourage students to be responsible and keep tabs on their own materials. As you can imagine, this is successful to varying degrees. Names help.

Step 5: Clean and Sand

Freshly cut bamboo might be a little sharp and can contain a surprising amount of fluffy material. Sanding the ends of your pipes to give them a nice smooth finish will make your bamboo much more agreeable on the lip.

The inside of your pipes should be as clean as possible. Depending on the diameter of your hole, you might be able to use a circular file. Otherwise, grab a tent peg and start poking. This cleaning process is a vital step. Any material left inside the tube will interfere with the vibration of the air stream, which is a fancy way of saying that your tube won’t make a good sound.

Students will probably try and test the pipes once they are clean. At this stage, it’s worth having the discussion about sealing one end with a finger to create a better sound.

Step 6: Repeat

If, like us, you are using this project as an opportunity for children to hone their skill of measuring in centimetres, then you might also like to specify the lengths. We used 7cm to start with and then did 2cm intervals up to 15cm. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as many times as you need.

Step 7: Glue

To attach our pipes together, we used a hot glue gun. This is not the most environmentally friendly choice as the glue is most definitely not made from nuts and berries. It was, however, quick and fairly simple. We are looking for an alternative sticking solution.

Step 8: Plug

You are aiming to seal off the end of each pipe so that the sound resonates beautifully when you blow across the top. In the first trial versions of our panpipes, we experimented with duct tape and white tack. Both methods worked fine but looked terrible. Enter beeswax. As well as having lots of health benefits, beeswax is malleable and fairly easy to work with. We used beeswax pellets which meant that students had to smush and mould a couple together to plug each hole. We completed this project in the middle of winter and needed to use the staff room microwave to help with softening up our beeswax pellets.

If you want to be clever with your hole plugging, then it is possible to tune your pipes. The more beeswax you stuff into the tube, the smaller the space inside becomes thus creating a higher note. This is great if you have the time and can be an interesting open-ended challenge for your big thinkers!

Step 9: Decorate

How you finish your panpipes is up to you and will largely depend on the materials that you have available. At the time, we had some freshly cut willow which gave us a really nice natural finish. Some chose colourful paracord while others used batoning to split bamboo before wrapping it with sisal. The choice is yours.


So there you have it, bamboo panpipes. When it comes to playing the panpipes, it’s probably safe to say that your students won’t match your level of experience of blowing into beer bottles. So, just like the wooden spinners, encourage a little bit of experimentation and practise.

A Beginners Guide to Art in Nature

Art in Nature. Land Art. Transient Art. Call it whatever you like. Taking learning outdoors using art as your vehicle can be an awesome place to start. The following pretty much makes up a unit of inquiry that happens with our Grade 2 students at the beginning of the school year. Comment below with other ideas you have, let’s get this sharing started!

1) Rainbow chips

A lovely way to get started is to use a Joseph Cornell activity called Rainbow Chips. This is basically a colour hunt where students are provided with coloured objects and their goal is to explore the space to try and locate that colour. When they find it they find it, switch for another colour and so on and so forth. Some people use colourful bits of broken pottery for this, colourful gems also work. Our favourite is to nip down the the local DIY shop and liberate a whole load of paint colour samples (ninja skills/confidence required). Up to you, whatever you can find.

Liberated paint sample cards

2) Start the conversations

Colour is an element of art. When we look at a piece of art, colour is something that we can comment on. At this point, we might whip out a classic Goldsworthy print and try to identify some colours. Enter stage right, the other elements of art. Value, texture, shape, line, form, space, & perspective. The opportunities for developing language and vocabulary here are boundless. Introduce in whichever way suits your style but be sure allow time for students to explore the outdoor space to find examples of each thing. At this point, our students are collecting what they find using Book Creator.

Using Book Creator to collect examples of space

At the end, bring back your Goldsworthy (or other) and see if students can comment on and give their opinion, linking in to their shiny new ‘Elements of Art’ vocabulary.

3) Get inspired

Start talking about transient art in any school and you’ll get… “Land Art? Have you looked into Andy Goldsworthy?” And of course, being the grandfather of the scene, his stuff is the bomb. He’s got plenty of books out there but there is also a range of things on Youtube, like this and this, that are good for inspiration. Andy is great, but please don’t stop there! Marc Pouyet’s books (especially this one) are also an excellent source of imagination kickstarters. Even a quick search for #landart on Twitter will open up a whole load of other folk who are doing some pretty cool stuff too. People like @RFjamesUK, @escher303, @TimPughArtist and @LandArtforKids are a selection of our favourites.

4) Create

Give it a go. Crack on. Go outside and create. Depending on resources that you have available, you might want to restrict the amount of materials, or not. We advocate the old “No Pick, No Lick” as a general rule in our Outdoor Learning space. Not because we don’t like fun. Because we find that if every 2nd grader decides that they want to use those leaves from that bush, then we end up with pretty naked shrubbery.

While creating, encourage students to make conscious choices as artists. Why have they chosen that location? Have they notice the texture of the rocks that they’re using? What can they tell you about the value in the acorns that they’re arranging in that circle?

Creating can occur multiple times, of course. To mix it up a little we’ve found it interesting to challenge our artists to use only one type of object. For example, only conkers or only oak leaves.

The abstract discussion is an excellent way to add depth to an Art in Nature session. Does our artwork need to be something? Can we leave it open to interpretation? Do we find the abstract discussion is accessible to all 2nd graders? Absolutely not. Sometimes, your artwork just needs to be a house with a pool. Sometimes, you just need to sit in a patch of sun a lick a rock.

5) Focus on one thing

If you have students that are not sure where to start, encourage them to focus on one element of art in particular. Shape, perhaps. Our old friend Andy G loves a good circle. Why not try some different shapes? Shapes within shapes? Lots of the same shape? Regular shapes? Irregular shapes? Is an oak leaf a shape? Shapes.

6) Gravity Glue

Michael Grab, or Gravity Glue as he’s better know, is a wonderful way to segue into something a little different. Check out the video below. Rock balancing can result in a calm and relaxing flow state, enhanced by deep concentration (closely followed by infuriation as the whole thing falls on your toe). Fun fact: rock balancing championships are a thing.

Gravity Glue

Alternatively, find out what an Inuksuk is, and give one of those a go!

7) Go for a walk

Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. We like to head off down to our local section of the Rhine. In the past, inspiration has come from cool things that we’ve seen en route and also the beautiful location when we get there. If nothing else, we find that a change in location offers copious amounts of new materials and more space than our regular Outdoor Learning locale. Where could you go?

Our local stretch of the Rhine River. It looks worse in the rain.

8) Get inspired… again…

Are musicians artists? So, if we bash together a rock and a stick, are we creating art? Experiment with different ways of playing objects that you can find in your outdoor space. How many different ways can you play your log? Try making a thunderstorm. Everybody grabs their favourite noise maker, one person conducts and sets the dynamics.

Music from Nature – Diego Stocco

If you’re lucky enough to have access to devices which support GarageBand (a wonderful tech-integration team helps too), then have a go at creating some Diego Stocco inspired compositions. This is cool stuff, make no mistake. It’s also pretty difficult to get the end result sounding anything like Diego, but the process can be awesome.

9) Don’t forget to look up

Who doesn’t fancy spending time laid out on the grass looking up at the white fluffy things? This is great for our line of inquiry which considers people responding differently to same stimuli. Not possible everyday so you have to pick your day. An easy way in is this book. Get outside and lie on the ground.

10) Share

Whether you host an exhibition for family and friends, post photos on Twitter and Instagram or just leave your artwork for the random public out walking their dogs; sharing your work is a must. Get students to prepare a blurb for their creations, linking back to elements of art and their inspirations. In our parent exhibition, students stand by their piece and explain their choices as artists, but these could be written also. If you’re posting on social media, remember to connect with the people that inspired you!

PYP Blurb