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Understanding Wind Chime Pipe Lengths and Their Musical Notes

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The length of wind chime pipes can vary from the tiniest mini-chimes that can be seen in car dashboards and office cubicles to wind chimes with giant pipes over 100 inches long.

Some chime makers focus on aesthetics, manufacturing wind chime pipes out of less resonant materials, while other makers specifically choose materials for ideal resonance.

Precision cutting of metal wind chime pipe lengths can deliver perfectly tuned notes from a wind chime.

The length of the pipe determines the pitch of the note that comes from the pipe. Very long pipes resonate with deep bass notes. Very short pipes tinkle with the highest treble notes.

While wind chimes can be made of various materials such as wood, bamboo, copper, aluminum, steel, shells, and glass, only the metallic pipes ring clear notes.

Also, only metal pipes can be cut to lengths that play specific notes. Other materials can achieve higher and lower pitches depending on length, but will not be tuned to specific notes.

Wind Chime Melodies

Since different lengths of metal pipe create different tones and semitones, the sounds and melodies created using wind chimes are only limited by the imagination of the artisan. Most wind chimes use a pentatonic scale, which will be discussed later, but other artisans create pipes that ring in unusual ways.

You can buy wind chimes that are tuned to famous landmarks such as: 

  • Big Ben
  • The Westminster Tower bells
  • Cathedral bells

Other wind chimes are tuned to play the opening notes of such famous songs as:

  • Amazing Grace
  • Ode To Joy
  • Brahms’ Symphony No 1 in C Minor

Because the pipes sound in random variations depending on the way the wind blows, these creations can be endlessly interesting and yet reminiscent of the masterpieces they are based on. 

Types of Wind Chime Pipe Tuning

When a craftsman tunes wind chime pipes, they must first choose the type of scale. It is rare to find a wind chime that is tuned to a full seven-note, or heptatonic scale, because some of the notes will sound discordant when the chime rings.

It is not recommended to buy pipes with a random assortment of tube lengths, because it will sound discordant and is very likely to cause anxiety rather than relaxation. 

Instead, wind chimes are usually tuned to a pentatonic, or five-note scale. This is an ancient five-note scale that can be used in both major and minor keys. It is commonly heard in blues and jazz music especially, as well as traditional Asian melodies. 

Heptatonic Scale in C MajorPentatonic Scale in C Major
CC
DD
EE
F
GG
AA
B

As you can see, the fourth and seventh notes of the scale are omitted from the pentatonic scale.

These are semitone notes which can sound dissonant if played in certain combinations. While these dissonant combinations are popular in musical compositions, they are not desirable in a backyard wind chime.

By tuning the wind chime pipes to a pentatonic scale, the craftsman can create a chime that will sound pleasing and relaxing no matter which pipes sound in combination, or even if all pipes sound at once.

The minor key pentatonic scale wind chimes bring a contemplative, and even mournful melody to the space. This effect can be very relaxing and meditative.

Short to Medium Wind Chime Pipe Lengths

This example uses a 1 ½ inch aluminum tube with a .083 inch wall that resonates at 440 hertz. Hertz is the soundwave frequency and is measured in the number of waves per second.

So this exact size of aluminum pipe resonates with 440 sound waves per second through the material. Each material and each thickness of pipe has a different resonance frequency.

A pipe ringing at 440 hertz can be tuned to any note from C1 which is the lowest C note on the piano, to C9 which is the highest, and every note and semitone in-between.

In theory, it can also be tuned to both higher and lower notes than these. This means that the melodies produced by the wind chime can be as creative as the artisan.

Also crucial to proper tuning is the hang point which is where the hole is drilled in the tube and a string inserted for hanging.

This hang point should be measured precisely so that it does not interrupt the frequency node. This will give the tube as close to perfect resonance as possible. 

A short wind chime pipe length will sound a very high note.

Here are a few examples of only C octave notes taken from a precise wind chime engineering sheet. These notes and the scale notes that fall in-between would be from the highest tuned notes available for a wind chime down to tones that would be considered mid-range.

C NoteC9C8C7C6C5
Pipe Length In Inches6 ½ 9 3/1613 1/1618 17/1626 1/16
Hang PointIn Inches1 7/16 2 1/162 15/164 1/85 13/16

As you can see, the additional pipe needed to achieve lower notes grows more significantly as the tones fall lower on the scale. There are nearly 20 more inches of pipe needed for a C5, which is only four octaves below C9.

Medium to Long Wind Chime Pipe Lengths

Long wind chime pipes resonate with a deep tone that can be truly awe-inspiring. Some chimes are over 100 inches long, but the most common wind chimes are around 50 to 60 inches long, producing pleasing mid-tone melodies.

As a comparison to the higher-pitched pipe lengths, here is a table representing the lengths of the lowest C note to the mid-range octave notes using the same 440hz pipe. 

C NoteC1C2C3C4
Pipe Length In Inches104 1/473 3/452 1/836 7/8
Hang Point In Inches23 3/816 9/1611 11/168 1/4

As shown by this chart, there is approximately a 67-inch difference in length in only three octaves, with a full 31-inch length change between C1 and C2. Further, in comparing the two charts you can see that there is an almost 98 inches difference in length between C1 and C9. 

Precision Tuning

While mass manufacturers may tune wind chimes simply by cutting them to length, this will not guarantee a perfectly tuned pipe. It can get the notes to within 1% or so of perfect pitch, but additional work is needed to get perfectly tuned artisan pipes.

A craftsman will go through these steps to create truly beautiful wind chime pipes. These pipes will resonate with tones that create melodies that are relaxing, pleasing, and never discordant. 

  • Select a material that can keep the chime resounding for a time after the initial strike ends. This can technically be measured in hertz. The most common metals are aluminum, copper, and steel.
  • Choose the desired scale.
  • Cut the pipe to the length that will best approximate the desired note.
  • Cut the hanging hole.
  • Slowly and carefully grind the pipe until it is exactly tuned to the desired note.

These meticulous steps guarantee a wind chime that sounds as beautiful as can be for years to come.

Conclusion

Wind chime pipes that are precisely cut and ground to exact lengths can be combined to create works of art that produce wind-powered musical masterpieces. These artisan wind chimes are more expensive and much more valued than the average supermarket wind chimes which produce a cacophony of sound from randomly cut pipes. 

Wind chimes can be found that play music to fit any style of outdoor living. From island-inspired notes to oriental tunes in minor scales, to chimes that sound like world-famous cathedral bells. All of this musical beauty and pleasing aesthetics comes from craftsmen with the patience and skill to cut and grind wind chime pipes to the exact pitch needed to make the chimes sing.

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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