The technique of how to play the didgeridoo is unique among wood instruments. You blow down the tube with loose lips creating a vibration that echoes down the tube coming out amplified as a drone. Similar to a tuba but even looser and more relaxed. It is important to stay relaxed, trying too hard will tighten your muscles which contradicts the need to create loose lips and face. Buzz your lips while gently pushing air down the tube. The lip vibration is similar to giving someone a "raspberry". It can help to stick your bottom lip out a little more than the top lip. To improve the tonal quality of the drone it is important to try to tighten your lips a little after the drone is started, this will increase the pitch and really get the didgeridoo going! If you tighten up too much the drone will abruptly stop and you get a sound we call the "Blow Out". People often ask us how we can get a didge to play so loud and have such an eerie quality to the drone. The secret to a good drone is starting loose and tightening up the lips until you almost Blow Out. If you ride the fine line of playing tightly with almost doing a "Blow Out" you can achieve a loud and intense drone. Getting a good drone is critical because the other noises you make while playing a didgeridoo happen while the drone is going. To listen to some other sounds go to our didgeridoo sounds page. It takes most people a bit of practice to be able to drone so don't get frustrated and practice, practice, practice. But, you shouldn't really think of it as practice because this instrument is fun to learn! Now try to drone as long as possible with one breath. While learning you will waste a lot of air discovering how to make the noise. As soon as possible start limiting the amount of air you use up. You only need enough air to vibrate the lips, this is what creates the noise. The toughest part of didgeridoo playing is learning to circular breathe. Circular breathing allows a player to be able to continually blow air down the didgeridoo without ever stopping for breath.
Didgeridoo and Circular Breathing
While circular breathing is great to know it is NOT a requirement to be able to play and enjoy this instrument. You can build breathing into rhythms you create when you snatch air between beats. It is best to master the other techniques of playing first and learn circular breathing last. Circular breathing is what allows players to perform continuously without stopping for breath. Many great wind instrument players such as Miles Davis and Kenny G use circular breathing. Practice these exercises to learn how to circular breathe! Exercise 1: Fill your mouth with water and push a stream of water out using only your tongue and cheek muscles. Make sure not to use any pressure from the lungs to help. Stay relaxed and breathe in and out with your nose while making the stream. Keep trying until it feels very comfortable. This is a good exercise to do in the shower!
Exercise 2: Get a straw and a cup of water. Twist the end of the straw so that almost no air can come out. Push air through the straw and into the water creating bubbles. Breathe in and out with your nose while doing this as in exercise 1. Keep the pressure even and the flow of bubbles smooth.
Exercise 3: Slowly transition to just breathing in with your nose and keep the bubbles going nonstop. Master this until the muscle contractions you are using feel totally comfortable and the bubbles are flowing smoothly.
Exercise 4: You are now circular breathing. Keep your cup and straw right next to you. Try to play your didge and circular breathe (it is just a bigger straw). You will find this difficult so go right back to the straw and water to practice again. Then, try on the didge again. Keep going back and forth between the cup and water and the didge until you can successfully do it on your didge. Take a look at the diagrams on the next page for a visual explanation of circular breathing.
While droning and pushing air out with your lungs fill your mouth and cheeks up with air.
Tighten your throat to separate your mouth air from your lung air. Expel the air that is in your mouth only and keep the drone going.
Quickly sniff air with your nose to replenish your lungs while your mouth keeps the drone going.
Switch back to pushing air with the lungs and repeat the steps, your circular breathing and the drone never stops!
A Story On How The Didgeridoo Came To Be...
Three men were camped out on a cold night in the outback. One of the men told another to put a log on the fire, because the fire was getting low and it was very cold. So, the other man turned and grabbed a log, which was awfully light to the touch, for it was hollow. As he went to drop it into the fire, he noticed the entire length was covered with termites. He did not know what to do, for he could not throw the branch into the fire, because it would kill the termites, and his friends were telling him to do so because it was so cold. So, he carefully removed all the termites from the outside of the log by scooping them into his hand, and he deposited them inside the hollow branch. Then he raised the branch to his lips and blew the termites into the air. The termites blown into the air became the stars, and the first Didgeridoo was created.
What is a Didgeridoo?
The didgeridoo is believed to be the worlds oldest wind instrument, dating back thousands of years. It originates as a musical instrument of the North Australian Aborigine.The didgeridoo is traditionally played accompanied with clap sticks and/or the clapping together of boomerangs in Corroborees (ceremonial dances). Players can also tap out rhythms on the side of the didgeridoo using fingers or sticks.A didgeridoo is traditionally made from one of many species of Eucalyptus branches or saplings. Species of Eucalyptus number in the hundreds but only about a dozen species are used for didgeridoo making. The Eucalyptus is naturally hollowed out by termites whose nests abound in the millions in Australia. It takes at least a year for the termites to hollow a tree out. Harvesting has to be timed so that the wall thickness of the instrument is not too thin or not too thick. It has to be "just right". Making for the perfect instrument!The varying length of the wood that is sawed off and its thickness and shape will determine which key the instrument will be in. Shorter lengths yield higher pitches where as longer lengths yield lower pitches. Didgeridoos generally range in keys from a high "G" to a low "A". A common "C" didgeridoo will be two octaves below middle "C" of a piano. The keys of C and D are the easiest keys to learn how to play on the didgeridoo. To hear the different keys click here.Bark is usually stripped from the outside and the termites removed. A rim of beeswax can then be applied to reduce the diameter of a large opening down to more playable sized aperture. About an inch and a quarter, similar to a tuba sized mouthpiece. Wax also creates a good airtight seal for the mouth and makes it more comfortable to play. The instrument can then be decorated with ochre paintings that symbolize a tribes food and/or totems.