How to make music instruments using straws - Trombone & trumpet

While experimenting for my project on moving things with sound I got the idea to make musical instruments using plastic objects from around the house. A little further investigation showed that I could make reeds using drinking straws. On this page is the result.

Playing the straw trombone...
Playing the straw trombone made from a drinking straw.
... and the straw trumpet.
Playing the straw trumpet made from a drinking straw.

Making reeds using straws

The first thing to do was go out and gather a bunch of straws by going to a local mall's food court and asking various venders for straws. Below you can see the ones I used of all the ones I collected. After that you start making reeds, like the one shown below.

Drinking straws.
Drinking straw collection for making music instruments.
Top view of straw - note the reed shape at one end.
Top view of full straw showing the reed shape at one end.
Close-up side view of the reed.
Close-up side view of the reed for the straw music instrument

To make the reed, as shown below, pull around the last 1 1/2 inches/4 centimeters of a straw through your teeth, crushing it. The goal is to flatten the end. Concentrate on the edges, but also flatten the middle. Below, you can see how flat I've made it. Flatten it even more if you can. The flatter it is, the better. Once you've done that, cut it into a wedge shape.

Flattening with my teeth.
Flattening the straw with my teeth to make a reed.
The flattened end of the straw.
The flattened straw forming a reed for a musical instrument.
The reed cut as a wedge shape.
The reed cut as a wedge shape from the straw.

On the left below, it's not flat enough. On the right is one that works well.

Not flattened enough.
Musical reed not flattened enough.
This one works well.
A musical reed that works well.

One trick, shown below, is to fold near the end, forming a sort of V shape. Below you can see I press the end of one finger into it while I put presure on the sides with the fingers of my other hand. Turn it around after and do the same from the other side.

Pressing in with one finger.
How to make a fold in the straw to flatten the musical reed.
Applying pressure from the sides.
How to make a fold in the straw to flatten the musical reed.

Another trick shown below is to make one fold just where the reed starts to flatten out and another a little further back. Do it in both directions, folding up and then back down.

Folding where the reed starts.
Folding where the reed starts in order to flatten it.
Folding a little further back.
Folding the straw a little further back to flatten the reed.

And that's it! Put the reed entirely in your mouth and blow.

Making a straw trombone

As shown below, I was lucky enough to find straws from two different vendors that fit nicely one inside the other. I realized this could be used to make a trombone since I could vary the length of the instrument this way, producing different sounds with different lengths. I taped one of the straws to my reed straw, making sure there were no air leaks at the join. Then I made 5 equally spaces marks using a marker on the straw that was furthest from the reed end, that's the straw that goes inside the other. Each mark was a different musical note. I could then play it by pulling in or out the end straw until the desired mark (or note) lined up with the end of the larger straw.

One straw fits inside another.
One straw fits inside another for making the straw trombone.
The three straws assembled.
The three straws assembled for the straw trombone.
Making the marks for the notes.
Making the marks for the musical notes for the straw trombone.
Playing the 3rd last note. Notice how long the trombone is.
Playing the 3rd last note on the straw trombone.
Playing the last note. Notice the trombone is shorter.
Playing the last note on the straw trombone.

You can hear the result in the video below.

Making a straw trumpet

I could also change the length of the music instrument by putting holes in the straw and covering and uncovering the holes to get the desired notes, as shown below. Notice which finger is lifted in each of the two photos below.

The trumpet made using a straw with holes in it.
The homemade/DIY straw trumpet made using a straw with holes in it.
Playing the 2nd note.
Playing the 2nd note on the homemade/DIY straw trumpet.
Playing the 2nd last note.
Playing the 2nd last note on the homemade/DIY straw trumpet.

Video - How to Make Music Instruments with Straws - Trombone and Trumpet

Here's a video I made showing the steps for making these straw instruments along with demonstrations. I play a little of Greensleeves with the trombone and a little of Scarborough Faire with the trumpet.

Video of how the musical notes were mapped to the holes in the straw trombone

This video gives the bare essentials you need to know to read sheet music and then how the notes were mapped to the holes in the straw trombone so that you can make your own.

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