Homemade Musical Instruments  Pythagorean  Pythagoras

Musical Fraction Tubes

You can build your own musical instrument based on a simple set of fractions  and this page will show you how!  It includes: 1) Virtual Fraction Tubes you can play right now on your computer; 2) directions on how to build a 5-note set of Fraction Tubes; and 3) information on building and playing an 8-note set of Fraction Tubes. So take a couple of minutes, hear the sound of fractions and learn how to make this instrument!

Virtual Fraction Tubes


Our Virtual Fraction Tubes play the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th & 6th notes of the Major Scale. It's called the Pentatonic Scale (see below). To hear melodies based on the Pentatonic Scale, see the video on the right, My Five Favorite Fractions.


As you will hear, the longer the tube, the lower the pitch the shorter the tube, the higher the pitch.  

Click the Play button below to hear the instrument. The sounds you hear are produced by tapping a pencil on the top of each tube.  If you would like to make this instrument, just follow the directions below.

Building a 5-note set of Fraction Tubes

Begin by getting approximately 5 feet of class 200 - 3/4 inch PVC sprinkler pipe.

  Fractions Inches Centimeters  
A 1 14 13/16 37.7 1
B 8/9 13 3/16 33.5 2
C# 4/5 11 7/8 30.2 3
E 2/3 9 7/8 25.1 5
F# 3/5 8 7/8 22.6 6

1) Cut the tubing into the five sections listed on the left.

2) Place a 1" X 1" chipboard square (from a cereal box) over one end of each tube.

3) Cover each chipboard square with a 2" X 2" square piece of duct tape.

4) Wrap about 15 inches of duct tape around the set as shown on the right. Tap on the tops of the tubes with your fingers or lightly strike with the eraser end of a pencil.

If you would like to build an 8-note set that plays many more songs, see below.

Building an 8-note set of Fraction Tubes

Phil and his daughter, Sarah, have created a special resource on building and playing Musical Fraction Tubes based on Pythagorean fractions!  Just like our homemade water bottle xylophone, glockenspiel, panpipes, and melodic tube drums, our Fraction Tubes are tuned to play an 8-note scale in the key of C.  Playing all of these instruments together, you have an instant homemade instrument band with musical arrangements that work for everyone! 

Building instructions are at FractionTubes.pdf. 

For sheet music written in treble clef, and play-along music tracks, check out Phil's Music for Homemade Instruments page.




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