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Wind Chimes

TeachEngineering activity contributed by Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s K-12 Outreach Office.


Students design and build wind chimes using their knowledge of physics and sound waves, and under such constraints as weight, cost, and number of musical notes their chimes must generate. They make mathematical computations to determine the pipe lengths.

Grade level: 9-12

Time: 150 minutes (three class periods)

Engineering Connection

Everyday, engineers design and create products, structures, and systems while working within given constraints. In this “open-ended design,” the potential exists for many creative solutions!

Prerequistie Knowledege

An understanding of waves and the corresponding equations for solving wave problems. A basic understanding of the steps of the engineering design process.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to

  • Explain the relationships between wave velocity, wavelength, and frequency.
  • Calculate the length of a pipe needed to provide a certain musical note.

Learning Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 – 12)

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association

  • Develop and produce a product or system using a design process. (Grades 9 – 12)
  • Identify the criteria and constraints of a product or system and the determination of how they affect the final design and development.
  • Engineering design is influenced by personal characteristics, such as creativity, resourcefulness, and the ability to visualize and think abstractly.
  • A prototype is a working model used to test a design concept by making actual observations and necessary adjustments.
  • Identify criteria and constraints and determine how these will affect the design process.
  • Evaluate the design solution using conceptual, physical, and mathematical models at various intervals of the design process in order to check for proper design and to note areas where improvements are needed.


crest: Highest point on a wave.

frequency: The number of wave oscillations that occur in a unit of time.

longitudinal waves: Waves with vibrations parallel to the direction of the wave motion.

transverse waves : Waves with vibrations perpendicular to the direction of the wave motion.

trough: lowest point on a wave.

wave velocity: The time it takes for one point on a wave to travel a certain distance.

wavelength: The distance between two successive points on a wave (ex. crest to crest, trough to trough).

Materials List

  • fan
  • computers with Internet connectivity (for research)
  • drill press or drill and sturdy clamp to clamp pipes
  • drill bits for each type of material students bring in (such as metal, wood, plastic)
  • pipe cutter
  • utility knives
  • scissors
  • (optional) scales
  • tape
  • stapler and staples

After researching the parts of a wind chime, bring in all materials necessary to build it. Try to find scrap material before purchasing anything.


You are just beginning your first job as an entry-level engineer at Wind Chimes, Inc. Your first task is to design a new and creative wind chime that meets the following criteria:
  • It must be made using hollow piping.
  • It must play at least four different notes that sound pleasing together.
  • It must be aesthetically pleasing.
  • Material cost must be under $10.
  • It cannot weigh more than 1.5 kg.
  • It must make sound when suspended 1 meter away from a fan set at low.
  • All research, documentation, and mathematical calculations must be provided to your supervisor (teacher)


Before the Activity

  • Gather all materials.Make copies of the Student Handout [PDF], which includes procedures.
  • Show students
  • the fan being used so they can feel the wind produced by it on low at a distance of 1 meter.
  • Bring in a wind chime if you have one to demonstrate.
  • Suggestion: Have students conduct most of the research as a homework / out-of-class assignment.

    With the Students

    1. Divide the class into teams of four students each.
    2. As necessary, review the steps of the engineering design process, which students will be following for this activity.
    3. Distribute the Student Handout and materials.
    4. Research the problem: a. What are the parts of a wind chime? b. How does the length and width of the pipe effect the sound? c. List at least 3 different sources and include website address or book title.
    5. Develop possible solutions: a. List possible materials b. Method of suspending pipes? c. Location for drilling pipes d. Make all required calculations for designing an effective wind chime.
    6. Test and evaluate: Does the wind chime operate continuously, giving out the expected notes under the test wind?
    7. Select a solution: Explain why you chose this solution and address all criteria listed in the introduction.
    8. Construct a prototype: Record all dimensions including pipe lengths and location of hole to suspend the pipes while constructing the prototype.
    9. Test the prototype: a. What is the quality of the sound? b. Does the sound quality need to be modified?
    10. Redesign to improve: List any changes you made to the prototype and note all changes in calculations for the new model

  • Attachments

    Safety Issues

    Supervise students when drilling and cutting to ensure they follow safety procedures.


    Use the Evaluation Rubric to grade student design projects on their functionality, aesthetic, calculations and drawings.

    Activity Scaling

    Wind Chimes. [1st grade] Next Generation Science Standards aligned activity by Regan Aymett, a teacher at Learning Way Elementary in Shelbyville, Tenn., in which students experiment, observe, and make conclusions about how sound travels by creating a plastic and a metal wind chime.

    Ways of Wind – Wind Chimes. [Ages 7 and up; 45 minutes] Boston Children’s Museum activity uses paper cups, string, and such “found” objects as screws and paper clips to make wind chimes. In the process, students learn about the properties of different materials while exercising their creativity.

    Extra reading & viewing

    Designing a Wind Chime – Engineering Design in Five Weeks. American Society for Engineering Education 2005 paper by S. Scott Moor, an assistant professor of engineering and coordinator of first-year engineering, describing a first-year engineering design project offered at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

    Make Your Own Wind Chimes Popular Mechanics article lists 5 easy steps. Or watch engineering students make a musical bell in this Electronics Projects video. [YouTube 2:02]

    Physics of Music: Make Your Own Wind Chimes. Notes and handy grid from Michigan Tech class for getting your chimes to sound the notes you want.

    Campus Wind Chimes Guide the Visually Impaired. San Francisco State University news story about a sight-impaired student who designed wind chimes to help him navigate campus.

    © 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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