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I've always had this concept of an instrument, but I am wondering if such an instrument is even acoustically possible.

The instrument is a tube, like most other woodwinds, but inside of the tube is a string that is stretched along the length of the tube. Air blown into this tube will somehow make the string vibrate, and the keys on the tube are like fingers on a regular string instrument, they will hold the string down so that only a certain length of the string can vibrate.

Is this possible? How could wind make a string vibrate? Are there any other complications I should be considering?

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    In principle, yes. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolian_harp Your actual design may present some challenges. Note that the air has to flow perpendicular to the string, not along it, for it to work. As to the other engneering challenges, you will probably have to figure those out for yourself, assuming you're the first person to attempt this. – Todd Wilcox Jan 14 '16 at 21:36
  • @ToddWilcox Of course it won't just be a hole at the end you blow into, I was intending on there being a mouthpiece that would somehow manipulate the wind to flow through it a certain way, I just didn't know how. But now that you say it should be perpendicular to the string, now I know. – Sam Jan 14 '16 at 21:43
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    I think you would have better luck with a thin reed similar to that in a harmonica. You won't be able to get a string to vibrate unless as Todd suggests the air hits it on the side. But even a very thin reed or film of any appreciable length would take a great deal of blow power to cause it to vibrate. I am afraid the musician would pass out from hyperventilating trying to get such an instrument to emit sound - particularly when attempting to play lower notes. Perhaps it could be powered by a CO2 cartridge like a pellet gun. Only much larger. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 14 '16 at 22:21
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    Possibly better suited to physics.se – Jacob Swanson Jan 14 '16 at 23:11
  • @ToddWilcox that's not strictly true: it's possible for turbulence effects to allow a longitudinal flow to excite vibration. But I wouldn't go that route either :-) . – Carl Witthoft Jan 15 '16 at 12:42
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Yes such instrument is possible it sounds like a player activated variation of an aeolian harp. Looking at Aeolian harp designs help me to develop some ideas what such instrument and it might look like and how I could prototype my design ideas.

Below is quick image of quick prototype design trying to show major design elements are:

  • mouthpiece
  • tube
  • bridges for string
  • air outlet hole
  • string
  • stopper

My design would use a fretboard to control the pitch of the string as opposed to keys. Also worth considering is flexible mount pieces so the instrument could be played in sitting like board zither.

My Basic design I highly recommend reviewing part of the book by Bart Hopkin, Musical Instrument Design - Practical Information For Instrument Making, See Sharp Press, 1996. This where my ideas come from for this quick prototype. The next for me would be to build one and see if works and what obstacles need to overcome and how best to handle these obstacles.

  • Bob, this is quite interesting, but the energy required to induce vibration in the strings by human blowing still seems to me a probable difficulty. Do you have any specific ideas regarding size, type of strings, or other issues, that help make this project viable? – José David May 10 '16 at 14:14
  • I actually haven't looked back into this for quite a long time. It was a nice surprise seeing an answer here! But I've pretty much abandoned this and I've been trying to develop this instrument physics.stackexchange.com/questions/238187/… which I haven't been too successful with, especially with my minimal knowledge of acoustics. And I will definitely look into that book! – Sam May 17 '16 at 16:35

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