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My First Big Design Project:
Making & Selling Bamboo Flutes

I.O.U. — These ideas will be developed more fully later:

Somewhat surprisingly, this was one of my first major experiences with engineering and — due to the wide range of factors that were considered, and my enthusiasm for exploring ways to optimize these factors — it was an early experience with a multi-faceted design project.

Making Bamboo Flutes - the Art & Science links to two articles about my flutes (written by Marc Bristol, based on information from me) in Mother Earth News (Part 1), and it adds information about the expert flute-making advice I got from Joe Kasik in Eugene, Oregon.  When we talked about flutes for his articles, I asked Marc to “give Joe credit” but this info didn't survive the editing cuts.     { For decades, Marc Bristol has been enthusiastically involved with music in Seattle, and he was/is editor of Blue Suede News. }


Here are sub-projects, spanning a wide range, in the overall project of making & selling flutes:

buying bamboo:  shopping several places in Southern California (one of the best places in USA to buy bamboo), comparing prices, choosing between different species of bamboo (this required observations while using physical experiments to make flutes), deciding how much to buy (a little bit early, then more later after I figured out which bamboo worked best), dealing with changes in supplies (sometimes the best-quality bamboo wasn't available or was in limited supply),...

making flutes:  deciding whether or not to bake the bamboo (and if yes, how hot for how long) in an oven;  how to cut the bamboo to make flutes of a certain pitch (D, E, F, G, A,...) from a piece of tapering bamboo;  how to make holes, where to make holes and how large to make them ("where" and "how large" are related);  plus many other details that are in the two articles.  For awhile I tuned by ear;  then I found a store with an electronic tuning machine, which they let me use in exchange for some of my flutes.

inventing a system:  I invented a unique 9-hole fingering system that works well because it allows playing common scale-notes (3-flat, 4-sharp, 7-flat) while holding the flute the same way as with a traditional 6-hole system, or just taping these holes which converts it into a 6-hole flute with the 7 notes of a major scale;  arranging holes non-linearly in a user-friendly way, based on my observations about fingers, because although I began using my own finger lengths, I wondered "am I normal?" and discovered that most people have one length-pattern (mine) or another pattern (not mine) for finger lengths, by observation, by asking people in a mall if I could trace their hands-and-fingers onto pieces of paper, which they allowed after I persuaded them — by explaining "why" and showing them a flute with the holes moved from linearity into a more user-friendly pattern — that I was less weird than they had first suspected.

selling the flutes at Weekend Markets in Southern California;  discovering some of the psychology of buying (e.g., people tended to ignore me if no other customers were at my booth, but might stop if someone else was there, and buying was similar - a second potential customer was more likely to buy if they saw someone else buying a flute);  learning about seasonality - I began selling in early January (worst time of the year!) and sold many more flutes in early March at the end of my brief career in making and selling flutes.

writing about music:  I wrote a small booklet for customers, about playing flute and making music.  Eventually this led to workshops (at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, the hometown of my first UW) and writing a web-page about Musical Improvisation - Creativity plus Music Theory that for years ranked #2 behind Wikipedia (they're tough to beat) in searches for [musical improvisation] or [music improvisation] with Google (before they shifted to Panda), and it still ranks high with Yahoo & Bing & DuckDuckGo.  This music-page has a variety of ideas you may find interesting, including a "theory about mystery" that is useful for thinking about music and also "drama & humor, dancing & conversation, and other aspects of life."