The quena (sometimes spelled kena) is a traditional handmade musical instrument similar to the flute. It originated in the indigenous cultures of the Andes as a recreational instrument and is extremely easy to make, especially considering the nice sounds that it makes. If you've ever wanted to make your own musical instrument (particularly one that sounds quite beautiful, as this one does) and learn to play it, making and learning to play a quena is about as easy as they come.

It is important to note that making a quena isn't an exact science; I definitely recommend making a few out of simpler materials, but the most beautiful quena I have ever seen was made completely out of wood and carefully sandpapered down to an almost divine softness. I wouldn't invest the amount of effort that would take at first, though; instead, start by making a very simple quena in the key of G.

Making a Quena

First, you'll need to head down to your local hardware store and get some PVC pipe, described below. You'll also need a drill with a variety of bits and a tape measure that measures in centimeters; you should be able to borrow these from a friend. Also, a roll of masking tape is useful.

You'll need a piece of PVC pipe with an external diameter of 2.2 cm (roughly 7/8 of an inch) and an internal diameter of 1.7 cm (roughly 11/16 of an inch). This doesn't have to be exact, of course; making a quena isn't an exact science. Ask somebody there for a piece 15 7/8 inches in length, which is roughly just a bit over 40 cm; they should be able to cut it for you.

When you get home, get out the drill and bits of size 3/8", 1/4", and 1/8"; with these, you will make the holes you need in the quena. Pick an end of the pipe; this will be the end you start measuring from. Put a piece of masking tape along the pipe on both sides, and on opposite sides of the pipe draw a straight line the length of the pipe, making markings every 2 centimeters (and numbering them).

Now, make your first drilling. Take the 1/4" bit and drill a half-circle on one end of the pipe through the start (near 0 on the numbering) of one of the lines. Make a nice U-shape through that side, but don't drill into the other side at all.

On the side where this U-shaped notch is, you'll need to make seven more holes, as follows. Don't drill through to the other side. A good idea is to drill all of these with 1/4" bits at first, then slowly widen the holes with larger bits until you get the right size. Don't worry at all about a hole that is a bit too wide. Also, don't worry about being a little off, either; that's part of the fun of a homemade instrument.

This many cm from notched end    Use this bit   Hole plays this note
-----------------------------    ------------   --------------------
19.2                             3/8            F#
21.9                             3/8            E
24.9                             3/8            D
28.3                             1/4            C
30.6                             3/8            B
33.7                             1/4            A
39.9 (very close to end)         1/8            G

On the other side, drill another hole with the 1/8" bit 17.5 cm from the notched end. Strip off the masking tape and it's done!

Playing a Quena

Hold the quena so the U-shaped notch is barely below your upper lip and blow gently while covering all seven holes (leaving the one on the far end open, of course). You should hear a very low sound. Play around with it until you get a sound. Playing the instrument is much like playing a simple flute; combinations of having fingers on, partially on, or off of the various holes produces various notes. For instance, covering all holes but the furthest on the instrument plays an F# note. As with any instrument, experimentation and practice will make you better at it.

If something seems out of tune, a rule of thumb is to widen the hole just a bit. Take the respective drill bit for the hole and wiggle it in the hole just a smidge as the drill is running; that should do the trick.


I made three of these during my high school years, the third one out of wood in a woodshop class. I think that wood ones produce a cleaner sound, but that may be due to the fact that they are very easy to slightly adjust and modify with a piece of sandpaper. I also find them to be more aesthetically pleasing in terms of visual appearance.

It's quite easy to make one; it takes at most half an hour to make if you have the tools and equipment. Plus, once you tinker with it a bit, a quena can sound quite beautiful.

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