If you want to be free to play any type of music, you need a chromatic instrument. That means, an instrument that provides you with all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. If only it were that simple! For you also need to ask, are they all easy to find or perform?

Various solutions have been proposed for chromatic panpipes, some involving 12 tubes per octave, arranged in one or two rows, and even a 14-tube model with the scales of C and C-sharp on two rows. You can see them in various youTube videos. They all look pretty ponderous to play, lacking in manoeuverability.

None of that is really necessary, as a simple note-bending technique which you can learn in a day, involving tipping the instrument, lets you get two notes a semitone apart out of a single tube. That means that on a diatonic panpipe tuned in G major you can find any other scale by knowing which notes to bend. It is, needless to say, quite a complicated task, like playing the piano blindfolded.

So I got to wondering, can we go one better than today's professional panpipe, based on the traditional Romanian panpipe, the nai. And the answer is, yes, we can go not just one, but three or four better! It wasn't just the note layout that I found impractical. Take a good look - inside and outside:

The answer to the last three questions is clear. A simple diswasher-safe plastic model with no unnecessary added length or weight. Plastic also permits other design optimisations such as perfectly graded tube diameters for a homogeneous sound and a paraboloidal bore profile (rather than a simple cylinder) for in-tune harmonics/overblow and added response and sound projection.

And the answer to Question 1 (and indeed to a whole lot of other performance-related questions - see below), is whole tone tuning: six tubes per octave, the minimum required for chromatic playing. Every tube is separated from its neighbour by one whole tone, so there are no surprises when you are playing by ear.

Advantages of whole tone tuning

Disadvantages of whole tone tuning

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