Pan flutes, which are known more commonly, depending on region, as panpipes, are a set of attached pipes that progress in length gradually, in order to produce different notes from each part. They can be made from bamboo, reeds, wood, ivory, metal or, in more recent times, even plastic.
The pan flute comes in many variations in size, curvature and material. Played across nearly the entire world, these classic instruments also vary in how they are played. All pan flutes involve the musician blowing over the open end of the pipe, thus producing the main sound. But some players may use their hand or their diaphragm and breath to produce vibrato. The differences in method, however small, increase between regional differences in the pan flute itself.
This instrument has an impressively long history, starting with its name. Panpipes are named after the Greek deity Pan, whose domain included shepherding and all things natural. He was often shown in artistic renditions holding or playing a pan flute, and for many in modern times, the association is still strongly linked.
But what one might not know about the pan flute’s history is just how deeply it runs. It may have been used as early as six thousand years ago in some regions and by 2500 BCE in Greece, and the pan flute’s presence in Greek art is frequent and reoccurring.
In ancient Greece, panpipes were most often made from cane tubes, in numbers anywhere from four to eighteen. But in other areas of the ancient world, panpipes were also being invented and discovered. For instance, in China, there is evidence of panpipes which were made from bird bone. More interesting still, for their unique construction, pan flutes in Vietnam and Thailand were circular in shape.
Although pan flutes have existed across the globe for countless centuries, and are as often associated with Greek deities as with modern music, they are still a contender in contemporary musical affairs. The fact that they have withstood such a long test of time, being invented and re-invented worldwide, is exactly what proves the pan flute’s significance.