Introduction to the Panpipe

Grade Levels: 7 - 12


  • Students will explain what a panpipe is and which cultures use them in their music.
  • Students will identify the principle of interlocking parts as exemplified in Peruvian and Bolivian panpipes (the siku).
  • Students will define the term "syncopation" and identify syncopated passages in the music.
  • Students will explain why Peruvian and Bolivian panpipe music is important as a surviving tradition.


  • Suggested recordings:
    • Kingdom of the Sun
    • Peru's Inca Heritage (Nonesuch H-7 2029)
    • Mountain Music of Peru (Folkways FE 4539) (also Smithsonian/Folkways CD SF 40020, vol. I, and SF CD 40406, vol. 2, reissues)
    • Instruments and Music of Bolivia (Folkways FM 4012)
  • Photos of the Andes of Peru and Bolivia from National Geographic (vol. 144, no. 6, December 1973; vol. 161, no. 3, March 1982; vol. 162, no. I, July 1982) or other sources


  1. Show or display pictures of the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Discuss the cultures of the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, and explain that the regions of southern highland Peru and most of highland Bolivia lie at very high elevations, where the air is thin, temperatures are often very cold, and wood is scarce. The llama is the chief beast of burden. The two Native American languages spoken there are Quechua and Aymara, and these are the names given to the people as well. The great Quechua-speaking civilization of the Incas captured many other civilizations in its military conquests. Today, music is used by both cultures for religious and festive dancing. The most important instruments are cane flutes (including panpipes) and drums. The Spanish conquered the Native Americans in the 1500s, and today many of the people are of mixed blood (mestizos).
  2. Play a recording of Peruvian or Bolivian panpipe music to demonstrate the principle of interlocking musical parts, a technique in which two musicians (or multiples of two) play alternate notes of a single melody on a pair of panpipes. These two players consist of the ira (leader) and the arka (follower). The interlocking musical parts can be clearly heard on Kingdom of the Sun (side one, band four; and side two, band two) and Mountain Music of Peru (side four, band five; CD vol. 2, 15). Discuss the listening example, and have the class generate a definition for the term "interlocking parts."
  3. Discuss the term "syncopation." The basic "short-long-short" Andean syncopation is very common in siku panpipe music and is found in the song "Waka Waka" (see Section B of Scales for a Panpipe). Teach it aurally with the syllables "dot-da-dot" while patting in a steady duple pulse. Have the students sing "dot-da-dot" while the teacher claps a steady rhythm; then have the students both sing and clap.
  4. Discuss the importance of siku music by pointing out that the present panpipe traditions in Peru and Bolivia are continuations of ancient traditions: panpipes constructed from cane, silver, gold, and clay have been found in 3,000-year-old desert tombs. Explain that panpipe traditions are also found in Ecuador, the Amazon rain forest, Africa, Europe (Romania), Melanesia, and ancient China. Point out these places on a world map and list the countries on the chalkboard. Discuss how panpipes are made by the Native Americans from their local materials (cane or bamboo and string), and explain how we can make them from modern materials: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic tubing and glue.
  5. Andean siku panpipes can be constructed from a 12-foot length of half-inch diameter PVC plastic tubing according to the Making Panpipes printable or by following these instructions:
    • Measure for and mark out lines on a 36-inch, 3/8-inch diameter dowel (see Figure 2 of Constructing the Panpipe)
    • Measure the PVC tubing according to the dimensions shown, and cut it with a saw (using a miter box, if possible). Sand the blowing edges inside and outside until smooth.
    • Using medium sandpaper, remove the printing on the PVC tubes; this will slightly roughen the edges of the tubes to be glued, making the glue hold better.
    • Insert a cork into the bottom of each properly measured PVC tube. Old wine corks that are tapered are easy to insert; new corks must be compressed many times in a vise for them to be pliable enough to be inserted. Measure the internal length of each tube from the open end to the cork, and compare with the proper mark on the dowel. Cut off the excess cork (the cut-off portion of the cork can be your next plug).
    • Place the tubes into two sets (see Figure 3 from Constructing the Panpipe) on a flat surface covered with waxed paper, and place a quarter-inch wide bead of PVC glue (see Caution from Constructing the Panpipe) along the sanded edge of each tube that is to be joined. Glue and join the tubes one by one; then let the glue dry according to the manufacturer's instructions, or for approximately two hours.
  6. Using a marking pen, write numbers on each tube. Beginning with the longest tube of each half at your right, draw at the top of the tubes the numbers 1-6 on the half with six tubes (the ira) and 1-7 on the half with the seven tubes (the arka) from right to left, or longest tube to shortest tube. Next, on the ira half of the instrument only, draw a circle around each number.
  7. With the longest tubes to your right, practice playing each half of the panpipe by blowing as you would across a bottle, using the attack "Tu" or "Pu." Give each note a forceful attack with support from the diaphragm. Sustaining notes is not a part of the siku tradition, and the notes of a melody are commonly shared between two players, so you should not become dizzy or short of breath when performing the panpipes. The sound will be loud and breathy.
  8. Introduce the simple notation system used in the music examples for this lesson. In this system, developed by Dale A. Olsen, the numbers with circles are for the six-tubed ira, and the numbers without circles are for the seven-tubed arka. Study and play the examples from Scales for a Panpipe: (a) the scale, (b) "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and (c) "Waka Waka" (a portion of a piece from the Ayrnara tradition).

National Standards for Arts Education Correlations

  • Content Standard #2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
  • Content Standard #6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
  • Content Standard #9: Understanding music in relation to history and culture

Excerpted from Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education.

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Provided in partnership with NAfME

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