University of Wollongong

You Can Now Custom-Print Instruments That Play Any Notes in Existence

9 JUNE 2015

Australian scientists and musicians have 3D printed a set of flutes that produce incredible scales not possible on traditional instruments, and the technique could help revolutionise the music industry and unlock all-new sounds.

 

Using 3D modelling, a team from the University of Wollongong (UoW) created a set of flutes that can play a variety of microtonal tunings, which are notes not traditionally used in Western music. These microtonal tunings generally exist beyond the 12 notes we're familiar with, and offer a broad range of pitch, intervals and harmonies that aren't possible to produce with standard instruments.

"When you go to school and study music you're told the smallest interval possible is a semitone," lead researcher Terumi Narushima told Nick Galvin over at the Sydney Morning Herald. "But I'm interested in the sort of notes you can get that fall between the cracks of the keys of the piano."

By tweaking individual measurements of their flute, including the length and width of the instrument, and the space between the holes, the team were able to unlock a range of different notes using their mathematical model. They then print their high-precision design using layers of ABS plastic.

"3D printing helps us to understand the acoustics of wind instruments and how they can be fine-tuned through comparison with mathematical models and testing in UOW’s anechoic [echo-free] chamber," said Narushima in a press release. "It’s about challenging the status quo of the music industry - looking at what kind of new music and new instruments we can create."

The project was part of UoW's Global Challenges Program, which aims to bring different disciplines together to solve global problems.

Not only could the research help to produce all-new sounds and instruments, it could also help bring music to people who can't play traditional instruments as a result of disabilities.

"We can see many applications moving forward with areas like custom-made instruments for people with physical restrictions, student models for use by children where the instrument grows as they do, customised instrument design where alternative designs can be printed and tested prior to production, as well as print on demand options," Geoffrey Spinks, the UoW Global Challenges Manufacturing Innovation Leader said in the press release

You can listen to the flute here:

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