Slide whistles, also known as swannee whistles, piston flutes or jazz flutes, are wind instruments consisting of a mouthpiece similar to that of a recorder. While the recorder uses fingering holes to manipulate air, slide whistles use sliding pistons inside the body of the instrument to make sound by modifying the air inside the chamber. Homemade slide whistles can be made out of varying household materials, such as wood, drinking straws and plastic.
Wooden Slide Whistles
The items required to make a wooden slide whistle are a piece of wood, such as willow or ash, and a whittling knife. Older children who have the dexterity to manipulate a knife with a sharp edge will enjoy fashioning everything from the blowhole, or mouthpiece, to the slide that moves in and out of the whistle chamber. Make a small whistle to wear around your neck like a pendant, or a larger one to use as a musical instrument.
Straw Slide Whistles
Younger children can make their own slide whistles simply by cutting the end off a straw. After flattening the straw's end, have the child cut small flaps off the flattened end to make a reed. Now, use a separate straw and insert it into the first to make a piston that moves in and out of the original chamber. Let the child blow on the reed, while manoeuvring the slide in and out of the whistle to make a range of tones and melodies.
PVC Slide Whistle
Another homemade slide whistle project for older children uses PVC pipe to make a sturdy, long-lasting instrument. The tools required for this project are a two different width pieces of PVC pipe and electrical tape to cover the end of the slide. Make a flute out of the wider piece of PVC and a slide out of the thinner piece. Slide that smaller pipe into the open end of the PVC flute to make a whistle that changes pitch as the PVC slide moves in and out.
Slide whistles likely developed alongside slide trumpets and trombones in Italy and Germany in the early 17th century. The first swanee whistle, manufactured in the 1840s by the Distin family, was featured in musical concerts in England. Slide whistles became common instruments in the United States by the 1920s, when they were used in jazz and popular music.