Homemade Musical Instruments — Drums — Tubular Drums

Melodic Tube Drums

On this page, you will learn how to make a set of tubular drums that can play melodies!  It includes: 1) Virtual Tube Drums you can play right now on your computer; 2) directions on how to build a 5-note set of tube drums; and 3) information on building and playing an 8-note set of tube drums.  Also, if you're participating in Science Olympiad, be sure to check out our Science Olympiad Addendum.  So take a couple of minutes, play the virtual tube drums, learn how to make your instrument, and discover all of the great sounds your drums can produce.

Virtual Tube Drums

Our Virtual Tube Drums play the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th & 6th notes of the Major Scale.  It's called the Pentatonic Scale (see below). 

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

Start by clicking your mouse on each drum head (below).  Then, choose a song and start playing.  The sounds you hear were produced by playing each drum by hand.  If you would like to make this instrument, just follow the directions below.

Building a 5-note set of Melodic Tube Drums

Begin by getting approximately 10 feet (3 meters) of 2-inch diameter ABS pipe.

  Inches Centimeters  
Bb 27 3/4 70.4 1
C 24 5/8 62.6 2
D 21 5/8 55.0 3
F 17 13/16 45.2 5
G 15 7/8 40.3 6

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

2) Cut five 2-inch circles from a rectangular plastic baby wipe container.

3) Glue a plastic circle on top of each tube allow the glue to set.

4) Arrange tubes 1, 2 & 3 over a piece of duct tape that is 30 inches (76 centimeters) long.   Apply a drop of glue between each tube in line with the duct tape. 

5) On tubes 1-3, apply drops of glue (in line with the duct tape) where 5 & 6 will make contact. Carefully place tubes 5 & 6 on top of tubes 1, 2 & 3.  Position tubes 5 & 6 to be 1-inch (3 centimeters) higher than tubes 1, 2 & 3.   

6) Apply a drop of glue between tubes 5 & 6, and tightly wrap the duct tape around the 5-tube set allow the glue to dry before moving the instrument. 

7) After the glue is completely dry, hold the instrument under your left arm and play with your right hand.  Quickly strike/tap the drum heads (plastic circles) near the center to produce the best sound — as shown below.

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

Building an 8-note set of Melodic Tube Drums

Phil and his daughter, Sarah, have created a special resource on building and playing melodic tube drums.  It includes step-by-step instructions, sheet music written in treble clef, and play-along music tracks.  It has everything you need to be successful with your project, from beginning exercises to duets and quartets you can play with your friends.  Just like our water bottle xylophone, glockenspiel, panpipes, fraction tubes, and didgeritubes,our melodic tube drums are tuned to play an 8-note scale in the key of C — and if you want more than 8 tubes in your set, check out our new Science Olympiad Addendum!

“Building and Playing Melodic Tube Drums”
by Phil & Sarah Tulga

Phil’s daughter, Sarah, shows you how to make and play a cool set of melodic tube drums out of ABS pipe, a little glue, and a plastic baby wipe container!  This 8-note set is tuned to the key of “C” and can be easily played with your hands and fingertips.  She provides exact measurements, specific materials recommendations, and expert building and playing tips so your drums vibrate correctly and sound in-tune.  To help you learn faster, Phil and Sarah have also included sheet music written in treble clef, and play along tracks for each song!

It's the perfect project for scouts who are making a homemade instrument.  In fact, you will see many scouting songs in this package.  Homeschoolers will also enjoy the project as a cross-curricular activity on math, measurement, music, and the physics of sound.  If you’re building an instrument for the 2014 Division B Science Olympiad Competition, please see the addendum below.

This complete package (including step-by-step instructions, playing tips, exercises, songs, duets, quartets, and the 2014 Science Olympiad Addendum) costs only $14.95.

To download this PDF book on "Building and Playing Melodic Tube Drums" along with all the music tracks, just click the "Buy Now" button below.

Table of Contents



I. Preparing your materials
II. Building your Melodic Tube Drums
III. Playing your Melodic Tube Drums
IV. Playing techniques
     - Scale
     - Counting rhythms
V. Beginning songs
     - When the Saints Go Marching In
     - Lightly Row
     - Go Tell Aunt Rhody
     - Matarile (folk song from Mexico)
     - Oh Susanna
VI. Intermediate songs
     - Ode to Joy (Beethoven)
     - Song of the Dragon (Chinese New Year song)
     - Camptown Races
     - Oh My Darling Clementine
     - Tue Tue (folk song from Ghana)
     - This Land is Your Land
     - On Top of Old Smokey
     - Daisy / Bicycle Built for Two
     - Home on the Range
VII. Playing with a friend
     - Hot Cross Buns (duet)
     - Mary Had a Little Lamb (duet)
     - Yankee Doodle (duet)
     - Good Night Ladies (duet)
     - Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me (duet)
     - Jingle Bells (duet)
     - Jolly Old St. Nicholas (duet)
VIII. Playing with four or more
     - Row Row Row Your Boat (4-part round)
     - Frère Jacques / Are You Sleeping (4-part round)
     - Taps

IX. 2014 Science Olympiad Addendum









2014 Science Olympiad Addendum

If you would like to build a percussion instrument for the 2014 Division B Science Olympiad Competition, Phil and Sarah have now included all of the tube lengths to make "Instrument 2" for the Sounds of Music event.  In their addendum, you will learn the pitch names, exact tube lengths (in centimeters), and frequencies (in Hertz) for all 27 notes in the “allowable scoring range” between C2 and D4.  The tube lengths are tuned and calibrated to an "A-440", and the frequencies they produce are precisely based on the “12 tone tempered scale.”  Additionally, you will learn exactly which tubes to play for the required “C Major Scale (C3-C4)”, as well as the formula for equal tempered tuning.  This addendum is now included at no extra charge in the above package, "Building and Playing Melodic Tube Drums" by Phil and Sarah Tulga. 

Also, see Phil and Sarah's Panpipes, Didgeritubes, and Glockenspiel to read about other instruments that meet the 2014 Science Olympiad requirements.

Sarah Tulga
Science Olympiad
National Medalist

in Sounds of Music












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