Fact No. 129. (Published on 5/18/2005)

Glass Music

Did you ever wet your finger and run it around the rim of a wine glass in order to make it "sing"?

Perform that trick using multiple glasses, each tuned to a specific note by adjusting the water level, and you are playing a seraphim.

Increase the number of glasses to about 50, make sure each glass is exactly the right size and thickness so that it plays a specific note without the need for water, and arrange them so you can play chords with a single hand and you have a glass harp.

Instead of drinking glasses, use glass tubes of different heights -- much like the metal tubes of a pipe organ -- and you have a verillon.

None of those instruments, though, can create music that compares to the sound of a glass harmonica (sometimes called a "glass armonica") -- an instrument that Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing.

The glass harmonica is constructed of a series of glass bowls, fixed on a rod (like beads strung on a string). The bowls are nested but do not touch each other. When the horizontal rod spins (typically powered by a foot pedal) it spins all the bowls. The musician need only touch the edges of the spinning bowls with his or her wet fingers to produce the notes and chords.

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