Bamboo pipes


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Unknown makers
Collection of bamboo pipes (handmade musical instruments), 20th century
bamboo, cork, lacquer, paint
21 pipes of various dimensions
Rare Music Collection, University of Melbourne Library

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Rare Music Collection, University of Melbourne Library

In England and France during the 1920s and 1930s there arose a pipe music education movement, which aimed to involve children, especially those socio-economically disadvantaged, in making musical instruments in class and then playing them. The movement overlapped with the Great Depression and offered an innovative and inexpensive entry into music performance. Pipes could be made using cheap materials, which were often available in the home (such as bamboo used for furniture or curtain rods).

In Australia, the cause was taken up by music publisher Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884–1962), who actively sought to incorporate music education for children into her publications, with the aim of bringing music for pipes into Australian schools and the family home.

The benefits of making and playing bamboo pipes included the opportunity for children to learn the rudiments of music on a simple instrument that blended art, craft and music making. The pipes evoked the simplicity and beauty of folk music; among the numerous examples in the Rare Music Collection are some unfinished ones, with finger holes yet to be cut or the cork block yet to be inserted into the mouthpiece. Others have been carefully made and decorated with designs inspired by Celtic and Medieval artisans.

Teaching ideas

The University of Melbourne’s curriculum is rich and varied, and changes from year to year. For more teaching ideas, contact a collection manager.

Music and Health

Using works from the Rare Music Collection, develop skills in using music to reduce anxiety and improve communication by creating and playing musical instruments, and listening to music.

Music Learning, Teaching and Research

Study the creation and playing of pipes in the context of the historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological and methodological factors of instrumental music teaching.

Electro-Acoustic Music

Use found objects to develop a critical awareness of sounds and how they may be combined, treated and sculpted in creative ways.

Creativity, Play and the Arts

Visit the Rare Music Collection to interpret and examine playful, creative and artful experiences; theories of engagement, play and creativity; artistic creation; and human development through music.

Health Promotion and Young People

Develop designs incorporating music, for health promotion projects or programs in specific environments.


Explore the physics of the generation, propagation and measurement of sound in the context of performing music.

Audiological Science

Incorporate music into assessment tools and their adaptations for paediatric populations.

Alexander Technique

Study pipe playing in relation to such issues as posture and movement, as they affect physical and mental health and stamina and, more specifically to music, the sound one makes.

World Economic History

Explore the development of economic activity and material wellbeing in the world, primarily in the past 200 years, as it applies to the Great Depression and the response by music educators.

Australia in the World 1914 to 2014

Use the Rare Music Collection to consider key moments in the 20th century: the Great Depression.

Knowledge, Learning and Culture

Visit the Rare Music Collection to explore historical, social, political and cultural influences on knowledge and the analysis of information and ideas from multiple perspectives. Encounter objects to show how direct experience can lead to greater understanding and knowledge.

Intersecting objects

To learn more, visit the website of the Rare Music Collection.

Further reading

Margaret James, The Pipers Guild handbook: The origin and history of the pipe movement, with full instructions how to make bamboo pipes (with diagrams) ... with a chapter on decoration and drawings ..., London: J.B. Cramer, 1932 (Rare Music Collection, University of Melbourne Library).

Daniela Kaleva, ‘Louise Hanson-Dyer’s Melbourne Centenary music book: An Australian celebration’, La Trobe Journal, no. 90, December 2012, pp. 48–58.